With American Maniacs hitting VOD on Netflix, YouTube, iTunes and more on April 24 via Phase 4 Films, star Ashlynn Yennie and filmmaker CM Downs chatted with us regarding the gritty independent film and provided some new photos as well as an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.
Written by Trent Haaga (Deadgirl) and directed by Downs, American Maniacs (originally titled Fetch) revolves around “a small Kansas town, where country life is anything but simple or safe (and where) the inhabitants are a volatile mix of hostile predators, violent ex-cons, meth-head strippers, perverted cops, and psychopathic murderers who raise flesh-eating dogs,” according to the official synopsis. In addition to Yennie, the film stars Shawn G. Smith (30 Days of Night: Blood Trails), Kurt Hanover and Jason Curtis Miller, among others.
Filmed over the course of a total of thirteen days in Potter, Kansas, “American Maniacs was shot for the most part in minus-sixteen-degree weather about twenty miles north of Leavenworth State Penitentiary,” Downs recalled of principal photography. “Ashlynn came down with tonsillitis, though, on day nine and had to be rushed off set so we shut down and picked up the last four remaining days five weeks later, but with no snow. We had to be mega creative.”
“It was freezing!” mirrored Yennie (who portrays lead ‘Starlene Arbuckle’) of the shoot. “I think it was the worst snowstorm the state had seen in a long time. I was not as healthy as I could have been coming in from Los Angeles to the extreme cold and I did get sick, but they continued to shoot and I returned a month or so later to finish.”
Other problems instigated by the weather plagued the indie production as well.
“We lost all of the ‘B’ camera footage due to the cold,” Downs recalled. “There were small vibrations in the footage which made it unusable, which couldn’t be seen on the 9” monitor or laptop (during photography), and which wasn’t caught until we were in post-production while viewing it on a 60” screen.”
“Every production vehicle also broke down and lost at least one tire, even catering. It was really that cold!” continued the filmmaker. “And at some point (actress) Amanda Dawn Harrison fell through a sheet of ice into the water. I will say that the film was one of the most fun productions ever, though. Everyone took care of each other and had a blast, and no one really complained about the weather. We just marched through it. I would do it again in a heartbeat!”
As for what attracted Yennie to the role of the ‘meth-head stripper’ she plays in American Maniacs (as the trailer bills her character), “She is really complex,” said the actress, who filmed the role between principal photography of her much buzzed-about The Human Centipede films. “One would read the script for American Maniacs and think she is a total heartless bitch, but I felt that all of her ruthlessness and selfishness were simply hiding a truly insecure girl who is scarred from life. I will be honest that there were a few things in the script that had to be taken out or re-worked for me to say ‘yes’, but in the end I think we all made a good film.”
“Chris is such an amazing director,” Yennie continued of her experience working with Downs on American Maniacs. “I like his approach to directing, and he created some really beautiful shots in the film. I learn so much from each film and from every person I meet, and American Maniacs was such a wonderful team of people.”
Of the look of the flick, “This is a very unique animal of a movie,” offered Downs of American Maniacs. “It’s a very Euro-style film and the first credited film on IMDB to employ the process of Digital PhotoChemistry (DPCD). The University of Toulouse, Paris did the color work for this film so it is very unique. We embedded real blood into the scenes and inserted colors outside of the traditional camera color space. It creates a very unique look to the film.”
Intrigued by this process, I pressed Downs with regard to the technical aspects of DPCD.
“It’s new and being developed by Toulouse and MIT,” extrapolated Downs, who is currently casting his next feature titled Swift. “This is being created for 3D filmmaking. I was the ‘guinea pig’ so to say, and I will one hundred percent do it again with higher resolution cameras. It really is amazing and a groundbreaking technique. So, if you shoot your footage as normal, you have your 3-color CCD space; what this allows you to do is to take images of other high resolution things, for instance with us extracted blood from a recent cadaver. You then take a 7D camera in 4K and then embed this color space into the film, which is then tracked into the real-time camera color space. This is exactly what we did, and also with the cold, you can tell it’s cold because of wind and sounds effects and actors portraying that it’s cold, but how do you make an audience actually ‘feel’ the cold? The answer is that you photograph high resolution 4K images of dry ice, then imbed that into the film and colorize it, hence creating the physical feeling of being cold. Pretty awesome, right? We did the entire film like this. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and it would have been nice to actually have a budget which would have lent the production much higher resolution cameras, but hey, it’s independent filmmaking. You either do it or you don’t!”
American Maniacs releases to North American DVD via Pacific Entertainment/Genius Products this coming May.
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