So maybe this year’s After Dark Horrorfest didn’t exactly set the box office on fire; hell I’m not even sure if it placed in the top 50. It’s a shame, too, because some of the film’s in this year’s lineup were worth checking out.
One such film, or so we’ve been told, was Craig Singer’s “>Perkins’ 14. Heather Buckley threw him some questions recently to find out more about the film, and he offered up his thoughts on horror, filmmaking, New Jersey, and Mickey Rourke.
Dig the results below!
Heather Buckley: Many directors look at horror as a “jumping off” point. But it seems like you are here to stay with us ghouls and werewolves. Why are you drawn to the horror genre?
Craig Singer: [The thought] that people would voluntarily immerse themselves in a dark room in order to be scared thrills me as a filmmaker. In a good horror film the audience wants to be taken to the edge—pushed and challenged. It’s the enjoyment of the postponement of the scare in some respects. This is also arguably the only genre that isn’t “name” dependent — having a name in a horror film can actually take away from the core experience and that as a filmmaker is also refreshing.
HB: Can you explain that a little more?
CS: What I mean is you have a really kick ass wonderful scary as shit script that captures the imagination of a producer or financier, you may have a shot at getting the funds necessary to get your ass on set. The focus, if you are lucky, can be placed on the style and atmosphere, the production design, the gags, and more below-the-line issues.
A straight drama or romantic comedy is more likely to get a filmmaker caught up in the name game and the names that get tossed around like footballs are often never steeped in the reality of your particular project. Sure you read about an A or even a B list star signing on to a film for scale but that’s the exception to the rule. For the most part Horror is about the scares and not the “names.”
See, the best moments for my core audience may also be the most dreadful or dire and these simultaneous emotions are something I embrace.
The fans are also extremely loyal and for the most part really good-natured. They may be “apocalyptic” by nature, but basically down-to-earth. I have attended conventions and expos both as a fan and as a filmmaker and the sense of community that those events foster is really remarkable.
As a fan myself, and someone who could never afford film school—what I do is a privilege and is not lost on me. Some folks confuse rights and privileges and I appreciate how challenging this business is and respect my fans.
You can never be all things to all people. Great horror is very subjective. Most people don’t know that a film like The Evil Dead couldn’t get a U.S. distributor first time out. Sure it has a 100 rating on the rottentomato.com meter, but until it was discovered overseas and then on VHS—the smart guys in the States didn’t want the film.
One needs to keep his head down and stay true to the vision and original intent and then work extremely hard to deliver the goods.
HB: Who inspires you as a filmmaker?
CS: I am inspired by many filmmakers like [Stanley] Kubrick but primarily [Elia] Kazan. Elia Kazan was really my film school. I sort of fell into East Of Eden. It was a strange out of body experience. He created this magical world and had these wonderful characters that were full of life and angst and I just really connected with the story and his work in particular. Waterfront, Baby Doll, The Last Tycoon, Splendor in the Grass, The Visitors—his attention to detail and pacing—the way he used featured extras.
HB: How did Kazan use extras?
CS: In Hollywood, even the featured extras tend to have a healthy glow about them. Kazan used real people. A recent example of fantastic extras that really enhanced a film was Ben Affleck’s use of extras in Gone Baby Gone. It gave that film an authentic vibe that helped make the story work better as a whole. Look at the faces in On the Waterfront as well. Those were real Jersey dockworkers. A Face In The Crowd is also a good example.
HB: What about Kubrick then?
CS: Kubrick didn’t have the sense of family or feeling that Kazan did. His characters were often cold, but the sheer visual intensity was enough to capture my imagination. To this day I can watch a Kubrick film over and over again and always find something new and unexpected.
Going down to the Jersey shore in the dead of winter and walking the desolate boardwalk also inspires me. I do that a lot. When I drive to the empty beaches of Asbury Park or Seaside Heights I can literally feel my day-to-day stress melt away and it’s a chance to clear my mind. Thinking about my past—my childhood and dreams; the ghosts of people and things of the past. Sometimes quiet time is more inspiring than any previous work in film or art or music.
HB: Do you have any desire to make Jersey the center of one of your horror films? It is filled with bodies and toxic waste. Not to mention the Jersey Devil.
CS: First off, I would love to make a horror film in our beloved Garden State. Jersey is not only geographically diverse but it has some authentically haunted locations. I don’t want to get into specifics though because I intend to utilize many of them when I do in fact get to shoot here — and yes I have seen the Jersey Devil. He’s real.
CS: Well, that’s a tough question. I don’t think it needs to go anywhere and I’d sound presumptuous to tell you anything otherwise. It will go where it goes. Hopefully in multiple directions as the horror genre means different things to different people—and it ought to.
HB: What does horror mean to you?
CS: Horror means different things at different times. It depends on where I am in my life at any given moment. It could be reflected in the times – what the headlines are or where I am emotionally in my relationships with various people – the health of loved ones etc…. In terms of films – I love the little day-to-day moments – what I call the beats in between – the attention to detail. Sure you could film buckets of blood – anyone could do that – but it’s about what leads up to the blood – how it’s lit, how its shot, the sound design, the music, the reaction to it; all the rest so the blood becomes less important than the circumstances surrounding it. Horror to me is like the definition of porn…. I know it when I see it!
For my part, I’ll continue to explore and embrace fan involvement. I really feel that creative energy has been controlled for too long by a very selective circle that feeds itself. That environment doesn’t encourage new ideas but rather exploits old ones and thinks of ways to repackage and market tired ideas.
Perhaps I’m biased because I began as a fan but, I really feel that getting your audience involved in some capacity early on and inviting and embracing that energy is a good thing. A blessing. If you can develop a unique one on one relationship with your audience then you have done your job and get the privilege to do it again and again.
HB: How did you get involved with making Perkins’ 14?
CS: I directed a film A Good Night To Die. Mickey Rourke was attached to star and in fact hung with the project for many years. Mickey, my writing partner Robert Dean Klein and I ended up writing a script together called Penance and Mickey and I became very close friends at the time.
HB: How was it to know Rourke? I loved him in Sin City and Angel Heart.
CS: I consider him a good friend. He would literally call me 20 times a day for years — all hours of the night. I swear he’s part Vampire. He would call me at 2 in the morning and tell me I had to read a poem he had written his ex or once his brother was not doing so well and he called my up hysterically crying.
We were very close for a period of time. At the time I was having some personal trouble of my own and he did something extremely kind for me. I won’t forget how generous and tender he could be; he’s a real man’s sort of man and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it but there is also another, more publicized version of his personality.
If he felt crossed he would be explosive and not give a shit about the consequences. We were dealing with a very famous producer who made the initial introduction and towards the end Mick didn’t like this individual and he’d call me very upset and I’d calm him down. He used to call me “soft voice.” After A Good Night To Die came out he called to congratulate me on the film and said he really enjoyed it even though he was replaced. That was a classy thing to do. That’s Mick.
Mickey’s star is on the rise and I could not be more proud of him. Perhaps we’ll get to make Penance one day. He would be wonderful.
HB: How did After A Good Night To Die turn out?
CS: At the last minute the studio replaced [Rourke] with Michael Rappeport. The film screened at the Cannes film festival and after the screening my producing partner Chris Williams was approached by a Lionsgate executive. He asked us what was wanted to do next. We told Lionsgate: “A Horror Film” and they basically said “we’re your partner” — this film became Dark Ride.
I directed the film at Universal literally in the “guts” of the back lot. Dark Ride was part of year one After Dark Horrorfest. It also premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival. It’s my understanding that Dark Ride was one of the more successful films for After Dark. The CEO asked me if I was interested in directing another film for the studio. At the time my partner Chris Williams and I had been working on some pretty innovative online technologies to invite and embrace “Fan” creativity and decided that Perkins 14 would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase some of the work we had been developing. (At press time Craig has been told by one of the UK producers that Perkins 14 had the greatest per screen average at this year’s Horrorfest as well.)
We were already working with Massify (a NYC based company that helps filmmakers connect and work on projects), so After Darks timing was pretty good. The team was in place to create the first fan-crafted feature in history.
While the film has many fan components, I knew the film needed to stand on its own and while the experience had some experimental components (we shot the film traditionally) I’m extremely proud of the film and the talented team that helped make it a reality.
HB: How did you locate the talent? Cast, crew, screenwriter?
CS: Once the horror community determined the winning fan pitches, the finalists submitted a video pitch. These were evaluated to determine the most interesting, entertaining and production friendly. A young man named Jeremy Donaldson won the contest and was in Romania with me for many weeks [during filming].
After Dark then hired a professional screenwriter to turn the “pitch” into a screenplay. We then invited fans to audition for four of the roles in the film and these submissions eventually led to a screen test competition held in LA.
The traditional casting took place in the UK where I worked with my casting director Chris Harris to find the appropriate actors. I did bring a few actors from the States including a Romanian actress (Mihaela Mihut) I met at the Actors Studio in New York City. Two if my leads, Patrick O’Kane and Richard Brake, were cast in London. Both are incredibly talented and I consider myself lucky to have found them. I was both challenged and excited to be working with so many young and inexperienced actors. They really came to work and gave me 100%, no egos. It’s refreshing to have such open and committed talent who were on the set for all the right reasons.
HB: How did Michael Graves get involved?
CS: Michael Graves who had a small role in my first feature Animal Room was doing a signing at a horror convention years ago when I ran into him. He was so enthusiastic about working together again and expressed a commitment to acting that stayed with me. When the role of Eric came up, I hunted Mike down and asked if he would mind putting himself on tape.
We didn’t have much time and rehearsed on weekends before and after scenes and on our day off. The talent was all very professional and made some of the challenges of shooting in Romania more pleasant.
HB: What were the challenges you experienced on set? Did working overseas exacerbate them?
CS: Romania was very challenging. My DP John Sosenko was convinced we were going to be killed in a car crash. They have this 24/7 TV channel that shows nothing but fatalities. It’s a bit like the Wild West over there. The crew was very hard working, I must say, and we shot the film almost entirely at Media Pro Studio.
We shot nights and the owner had this swimming pool so a few of my American contingency and I would give up lunch and take a dip at 2-3 am to clear our heads. Some of the equipment was not great; we had a dolly issue and had to fly some grip stuff in from Germany. I did most of the FX practically and did have a few challenges with gags that were planned out one way but didn’t materialize as we had hoped.
It’s very frustrating to be that far from your comfort zone. When things go wrong, and they do go wrong, you can’t reach into your personal network to try and fix them. You are at the mercy of the people around you. For instance, you might scout a location and at the last minute you are told it’s no longer available — this is the only choice. Now, if I were filming in NYC or Philly or even Jersey, I could say “What about here and here and here?”
There were a few FX and props and locations that were planned and paid for that ended up not happening. I felt kinda fucked, but kept my head down and moved ahead. You learn to embrace disaster as a filmmaker and tend to wake up and say “OK, what today’s issues? What broke? What fell through? Who is sick? What didn’t arrive? Etc.” Then you jump in the pool and try to clear your head and creatively solve the problem.
HB: Did you shoot on film or digital? If film, is the cost of using real film over digital worth it?
CS: I shot Perkins 14 on super 16mm; the savings over digital can be debated but my reason was more about the look. I did some digi-tests over in Romania when I first went out there to scout and I didn’t feel like it was digging into the blacks the way I wanted — that and the grain is completely different. The best description for me is that digital is what the eye sees while film is what the mind sees.
I also know that the nature of video is that you shoot more, period. We were super tight in all aspects of Perkins 14, post schedule included. More shooting means more time to sort through footage ergo I needed the discipline of shooting film to prepare my shots with greater care and efficiency. I don’t tend to cover scenes traditionally and sometimes “Cut-in-the-camera,” something producers don’t love but it helps me make my day and run a lean and mean ship.
HB: How does a marketing campaign make or break a genre film? Charles Band once mentioned Ghoulies would have never taken the world by storm without the green-guy and that tagline.
CS: Marketing can certainly capture the imagination of an audience; the best example was during the home video boom of the early 80’s. You had a bunch of mediocre film like Future Kill and Exterminator and Q with the most remarkable cover art.
Future Kill had this really great Geiger, sometimes it all comes together and the marketing compliments the films aesthetic and delivers on the promise of what was actually filmed. I think Perkins 14 has a remarkable poster/cover art and what makes it that much greater is that is came from a fan. Out of the hundreds of submissions I can honestly tell you it was my favorite. I didn’t vote or have any sort of hand picking the winning design but his was the one entry that I offered congratulations on.
Even if he didn’t win I wanted him to know I thought his work was inspired. So Perkins 14 has in my opinion the best cover art of not only the Eight Films to Die For but also any horror film I have seen in a really long time. The fact that it comes from a fan is icing on the cake.
HB: Any advice for kids trying to break into the biz?
CS: Study films and keep shooting. Technology has both its good and bad sides. It has leveled the playing field in some respects and it’s easier to build and grow an audience with social networking sites and blogs etc, but there is also a whole bunch of white noise out there so its challenging to raise above the muck and get your work seen.
I’d say really that you should do the work and don’t expect a 2 picture deal because you did a cute 90 second short on YouTube. Many young filmmakers I meet (and I meet a bunch) have a sense of entitlement. I never had this, it’s very humbling to be able to make films and I try to be mindful of all the hard work and help I received along the way.
Thanks to Mr. Singer for taking the time to chat with us! Perkins’ 14 will be on DVD March 31st as part of the After Dark Horrorfest 3 boxset; hit the links below to pre-order them now!