The glitz and glamour of Hollywood never really appealed to Warren F. Disbrow when he was getting started in filmmaking. For him, one movie demonstrated that movie magic can happen anywhere – George Romero’s classic study of consumerism amidst a zombie outbreak, Dawn of the Dead. Because of Romero’s success, it inspired Disbrow to stay in New Jersey and make films the way he always envisioned.
His decision to remain on the East Coast is only one part of Disbrow’s truly independent filmmaking spirit, the other being his dedication to self-distributing all of his work, including his recently filmed upcoming project, Hate’s Haunted Slay Ride (the follow-up to 2008’s Haunted Hay Ride: The Movie). Dread Central spoke with Disbrow to discuss his brand new sequel, why being business-minded is key to the success of independent filmmakers, and why he’ll only do self-distribution for all of his films.
Horror was an early love in Disbrow’s life and the writer/director credits one particular classic Universal monster as the one who started it all.
“I was 5 years old and started watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and it blew me away. I went nuts over anything with monsters from then on out. I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland and all kinds of genre films that focused on the fantastic. I couldn’t get enough monsters in my life,” said Disbrow.
Disbrow added, “I really love the horror genre and feel like I could live the rest of my life content to be only working in horror. It’s my dream job – nothing competes with this feeling.”
His lifelong appreciation for monsters and things that go bump in the night led to the inspiration for his feature film, Haunted Hay Ride. The retro horror flick is centered around the maniacal Hate, who terrorizes riders on one fateful autumn hay ride.
“Haunted Hay Ride came from the spirit of the Halloween season because I love that feeling so much,” explained Disbrow, “and with all the traditions, the scares, the masks, I wanted to bring people back to the feeling of standing there in the woods, waiting to take a ride on a hay wagon and what would happen if you were suddenly attacked while on one of these rides. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen that premise in any horror films so I decided to make that the base of my story.”
“Haunted Hay Ride is a fun throwback 80s slasher flick, and it’s definitely action-oriented but offering something more to it than just a naked girl running through the woods. There’s a good story going on as well,” Disbrow added.
Most directors will play coy with the idea of whether or not they ever intended for a project to get a sequel, but not Disbrow. He always envisioned more carnage for his killer Hate. “I’ve never really liked the idea of trying to kill your killer off because there’s no fun in that. I always want there to be a real threat going in my films, and showing weakness takes away that threat for today’s audiences,” Disbrow said.
While Disbrow says Haunted Hay Ride is a fun slasher flick, he discusses how for the sequel, Hate’s Haunted Slay Ride, he went for a different direction, both with his subject matter but with his killer as well.
“There is definitely a holiday-time theme going on this time around and Hate has developed into a more satanic character that gets himself involved in a war against Judaism. I really wanted to see someone do a Jewish horror film so for this second film, you have Hate walk into a synagogue to attack a rabbi. By the end everyone is cornered inside and Hate uses fire to drive them out. It’s not bashing Judaism per se, it’s just more of one twisted man’s take on the world,” said Disbrow.
Even though Disbrow loves the creative side of filmmaking, he’s the first to tell you that it’s only one part of what makes a truly successful independent film these days. The writer/director said, “The business side of filmmaking is one of the most important things that you need to have a grasp on because if you don’t, your career is over. Marketing is just as important, too. Look at independent films that overwhelmingly succeeded: Blair Witch, Open Water, and Paranormal Activity. They all had the right combination of brilliant marketing campaigns with quality storytelling on no budgets. They all proved to the Hollywood machine that smaller movies can make it in the big leagues.”
Part of seeing those kinds of success stories is what drives Disbrow to keep making horror films independently. However, he said, he didn’t see the big picture until he discovered the art of self-distribution. After he realized he could eliminate the pressure of getting paid to do what he loves, the director said he can now focus on other things – like talking to the press, for starters.
“Making independent movies is a very stressful process for everyone, my camp of people included. We used to spend so much time worrying about getting distribution for our projects that we’d forget to push ourselves, creatively and professionally. I never used to have the time to even worry about promoting our work or reaching out to the horror media, but now we have a certain comfort level that allows us to focus on all aspects of making a movie,” Disbrow said.
Part of what made it an easy for decision for Disbrow to move forward with self-distribution was the current climate of filmmaking, where it seems like Hollywood is hard-pressed to get an original horror film made these days where those involved actually see a profit for their efforts.
“The film-going public has to start realizing that if creative people don’t get paid for their work, then they can’t keep creating,” explained Disbrow. “Anyone who is part of the filmmaking process, at any level, needs to get paid for their efforts and that’s the bottom line. We ultimately decided that we should just take care of distribution for ourselves because in the end you won’t rip yourself off, and I’ve seen so many people get ripped off with bad distribution deals.”
“The first time we put a project out for ourselves, we made money right out of the gate. These days, even if you get a theatrical release, you aren’t guaranteed to see any sort of money so to get my movie out to audiences and see an immediate return was very refreshing. I honestly don’t think there’s any reason these days to sign over any project to a studio system. They feel like if they put your project out, then you owe them for life and it’s hard to thrive in that kind of environment. You can’t beat a system that has been in place for generations so you need to do what you can to cut them out,” Disbrow added.
Even though the future of original horror movies in the Hollywood studio system seems bleak in this climate, for Disbrow these challenging times signal good times for the independently spirited filmmakers.
Disbrow said, “The sad thing for true horror fans is that right now Hollywood won’t finance a film without a great pre-sold character attached. It’s cheaper because you don’t have to spend time or money introducing them to the audiences. With that being said, I truly think that this is the greatest time for independent filmmakers because with today’s technology, you can get your story to audiences almost immediately.”
With Hate’s Haunted Slay Ride completed and looking for a release date, Dread Central asked Disbrow what his next project will be. And no, it won’t involve a serial killer stalking kids on Easter, either. The writer/director is going for something a little more visually stylistic.
“The Demons Among Us is the shooting title for my next project,” explained Disbrow. “It will be my first hi-definition film so it’s a sad moment for me because I’ve always loved both 16mm and 35mm film. I’m sort of old-school, but everything is going digital these days so you have to follow the pack in order to compete.”
“I want The Demons Among Us to have a European thriller feel to it, and it’ll be centered around a supernatural entity that follows and torments people. It’s going to be something that atmospherically won’t feel like either of the Hate movies at all. It’s got a completely different and almost darker feel to it if you can imagine something darker than a serial killer,” Disbrow added.
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