The making of genre films (or even shorts) has long been something every fan dreamt of. For years it was something many filmmakers aspired to, but the technology was out of reach due to its exorbitant expense and inherent unavailability. Now, with high definition video cameras available at Best Buy and an open-door policy at online sites like YouTube, that dream isn’t so far off. Case in point: Ron Purtee.
A longtime contributor to YouTube, he not so long ago made up his mind to go out and make a film which he planned to put up for people to enjoy. That film, Becoming Undead, got a lot of traffic and proved he had something of value to say to an obviously eager audience. Time went on and more projects were considered. Recently, Ron released The Social Media Massacre and even more people have taken notice. Part of a proposed trilogy of short films, Massacre tells the story of a young man who lives isolated and lonely and his search for someone he can share his life – and love – with.
Dread Central spoke with Ron and we talked a bit about him, his filmmaking, and his new film, The Social Media Massacre.
Dread Central: Tell me a little about yourself and Becoming Undead Films.
Ron Purtee: I was born and raised in Wisconsin and from a very early age I was into films. Every aspect of them has really enthralled me. Becoming Undead Films is Tom Jensen and myself. After we originally shot BECOMING UNDEAD and it became as popular as it did, we decided to pay homage to the short that really made us realize “Hey, people like our crap.”
DC: Were you a product of film school or was it just a matter of you picking up a camera and going for it?
RP: I wanted to go to film school, but for one reason or another it just never happened. Then I saw a lot of indie filmmakers who were making the films they wanted to and never went to film school and it really cemented home the “learn by doing” mantra which is what we do on every shoot.
DC: You are active on YouTube… how much did that contribute to the making of your films?
RP: It helped to get the word out about them, but I don’t think that YouTube really had much to do with any of the films until THE SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE. At that point something just clicked in my head and made me realize that I could use this for something more than making fun of whatever heiress is in the news. Although I still get the urge to do that some times.
DC: What are I Walked With The Dead and Becoming Undead ?
RP: I WALKED WITH THE DEAD was supposed to be a documentary on zombies in pop culture. [laughs]. We shot it with every intention of asking folks questions at a zombie walk, but we forgot there would be a LOT of alcohol involved that night. So I took the footage that Tom shot that night and just made a fun little nod to the silent film era with the undead. I guess we were just lucky to get those people “attacking” the construction equipment. BECOMING UNDEAD was the first short that we shot in my Dad’s garage. I had originally written the script to have a voice over, like what’s going on in the character’s head as he’s turning into a zombie, but due to some problems on set, the original narrative just didn’t hold up. So I put music under it and it became what it is. There are things I’d love to go back and change but overall I’m really happy with it.
DC: What was the film’s budget?
RP: The budget for THE SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE was basically whatever it cost me to get to Charlie’s apartment. At this point if I had an actual budget for a film I’d flip out and try to do a crane shot for a shot as simple as someone knocking on a door.
DC: What was the shooting schedule?
RP: We shot this in an afternoon. I remember the joke during shooting was “We gotta get done for THE WALKING DEAD!” I try to only shoot what we need and especially on this film I was operating the camera so when I saw what I wanted, that was that. It was onto the next set up. I like to shoot fast and begin editing right away. I hate letting footage just sit.
DC: Tell me about your cast and casting process
RP: I’ve known Charlie for a long time now. I used to be involved in the music scene in the area and that’s where I met him. He’s still singing in a band and when we shot BECOMING UNDEAD I just knew that he had to play the lead because we both have this huge love of zombies it just really made sense. The more I hung out with him, I realized that he was perfect for THE SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE. So there wasn’t really a casting process as much as it was me sending him a text message and him agreeing to do it, but I don’t think I could have made this film with anyone else playing Sam. Sasha is actually Charlie’s real life girlfriend. We had talked to someone else initially to play the role of Angie but things came up and we didn’t really have anyone until the week before shooting. Sasha has been a real cheerleader for the film which I really appreciate.
DC: What was it about “social media” that drew your interest?
RP: It kind of stems back to a couple conversations I had with my friend Brian about how everyone seems to put everything out in the open now. No one has any kind of a private thought because everything is on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Relationships end on people’s Facebook wall and that really drew me in when I was actually writing the script. I’m not saying that I’m better than anyone else in that regard because I have had my share of drama in my life thanks to Facebook and what not. It just seems that no one is really all that immune to it and that really was always in the back of my head.
DC: Did you ever worry that the inclusion of the word “massacre” might tip off your audience to your film’s theme (and conclusion)?
RP: I knew after I came up with the name that it gave away what the film was ultimately about, so I tried to rely on the journey to the “massacre”. I think a lot of people see the word “massacre” and they think that they are in for a blood bath. I remember seeing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and thinking that I should wear a poncho because I’m going to be doused in buckets of blood and it just wasn’t the case. It was more of a mind fuck than anything, and that’s kind of what I tried to do with this film.
DC: What are your release plans for THE SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE?
RP: Right now we are going to try to get it into some festivals, but mainly push it on the internet. I think it’s one of those films that really has a home online because of the subject matter.
DC: What’s next for you and Becoming Undead Films?
RP: I’m currently working on the script for the follow up short to THE SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE. There were some talks about adapting it as a feature but I think in that case too much of the character’s mystique would be given away and “Sam” would lose his luster. We are making a trilogy of films for the character of Sam lovingly called “The Bloody Knuckle Trilogy” and the final part of that should be out by the end of the year. Then we compile everything for a DVD in time for Christmas. That’s what’s on the docket at least. Life sometimes has a nasty habit of getting involved in my plans.
For more hit up the official Becoming Undead website.
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