Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Christian Ackerman Talks Hell's Belles and More - Dread Central
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Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Christian Ackerman Talks Hell’s Belles and More

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Just a few weeks ago, Dread Central had the privilege of hosting the online premiere of Christian Ackerman’s horror comedy short Hell’s Belles which follows two badass chicks that are called upon to battle a demonic entity that has captured a young girl and is holding her as his prisoner.

Starring Ariel Teal Toombs, Mayra Rodriguez, Trista Robinson, Bonjah and James Cavlo, Hell’s Belles was also written by Ackerman and produced by Drina Durazo. For Indie Horror Month 2013, we recently caught up with Ackerman to hear more about his latest short film as well as more on his plans to develop Hell’s Belles into a feature film project and more. Check out all the highlights from our interview below!

Dread Central: So what inspired you to write this story about these two female badasses that deal with demonic forces?

Christian Ackerman: Well, a few years ago, I imagined a scene involving a gorgeous female mortician driving a hearse. That developed into compiling notes for a feature.  Before I started actually writing, I decided to make it into a short and then write the feature while I was waiting for the festival responses. In the short, she works at a small-town cemetery during the day and moonlights with her best friend as a paranormal investigator.  In the feature, the girls no nothing about magic or the supernatural, and eventually turn into badasses after being forced to fight a horde of demons. To make the short possible, I shaped the idea into a stand-alone piece that showcases the two lead characters, the supernatural elements, and the style of humor I was infusing into the feature.

Dread Central: You balance a lot of comedic elements in this story but you still have all those supernatural elements at play as well; was that difficult to balance them out since if you go too far one way, you become a farce and if you go too far the other way, you run the risk of losing the humor that really sells this crazy story?



Christian Ackerman: I had to make the situation serious in order to balance the fun. Then I could give the demon a sick sense of humor so he could get a few laughs. The best part about making this short before I wrote the feature was to offer myself a testing ground to see what could work. I was able to sit with audiences and see what they responded to. The interesting part is that each audience reacted to each humorous moment differently. I would see a joke not get a laugh at one screening and get a big laugh at the next. I learned that: one- you can’t please everyone every time, two- you have to trust your instincts and have confidence in those decisions, and three- the better you set up an unexpected moment, the better the response you’ll receive.  My writing partner, Chuck Foster and I used this knowledge to strengthen what we were writing in the feature version.
Dread Central: Talk about your casting process for Hell’s Belles and how your actors came on board, particularly your two lovely leads that had some great chemistry together.

Christian Ackerman: I first saw Ariel Teal Toombs (Adria Blackmoor) in a short film while I was working on a few projects with her dad. I then ran into her at a Fangoria convention a few years back. After I wrote the short, I took her to lunch to see if she was right for the character. Her dark sense of humor meshed well with mine and I realized she was perfect to play Adria. Also, seeing that her dad is Roddy Piper, she has an inherent, take-no-bullshit-badass-motherfucker beneath the seemingly innocent visage.

When we held auditions for Helena, Ariel’s sharp wit and quick improvisation skills had me laughing my ass off. With that kind of presence, whoever played Helena needed to be just as strong. After seeing about 30 girls for the part, Mayra Rodriguez walked in at the end of the last day. Helena is a tough, vulgar, act-first, think-later kind of girl. She read with our producer, Drina Durazo, and killed it. To top it off, she had the skills, the accent I wanted, and was hilarious. We were sold.

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Christian Ackerman Talks Hell's Belles and More

Dread Central: Where did you guys shoot Hell’s Belles?

Christian Ackerman: I spent a few days driving around the outskirts of Los Angeles, searching for the perfect barn. I knocked on a ton of doors, went to horse stables, got dirty looks on the back roads of secluded ranches, and saw some scary places. Some friends of mine shot a commercial at a great barn in Fillmore, but didn’t have the address. After a long day of asking everyone in town, I found it. I knocked on the door of a nearby house belonging to an elderly couple who almost pulled out their shotgun on me. Luckily, they were nice and gave me the number of the owner, who allowed us to shoot there for a reduced fee. We shot the daytime hearse scenes on the nearby country roads.

Since we had 14 pages to shoot over two 30 degree nights with a skeletal crew, we had no time to mess around. I researched the Farmer’s Almanac and found out it had rained an inch total over the past ten years. What happened? It rained on the night we scheduled our exteriors. When the rain finally stopped, we had to haul ass to make our night. Luckily, we bought propane heaters and had crew of friends, so the situation didn’t turn to mutiny.
We also had problems with actors dropping out last minute, finding a good weekend to schedule all 25 people, and securing any available friends to crew for our cinematographer, Cameron Duncan (Longmire, Southland).  

Dread Central: I thought Hell’s Belles has a great slick look to it, can you discuss the shooting style you guys went for, particularly with some of those car shots in the opening which I thought were fantastic?

Christian Ackerman: Thanks! Cameron and I realized it’d be tough to shoot that many pages without being as fast as possible, so we went with a two-camera, handheld approach for a majority of it. I dislike the intentionally shaky, documentary-style of shooting narrative films, so we shot as steady as possible.  Of course, having two cameras can be great, but it also causes complications, especially when you have a small crew. I’ve done many projects with Cameron since college, so I know he can produce a great image utilizing whatever I could afford to give him.

For the moving hearse scenes, we rented a suction cup mount and stuck the camera to the inside of the windshield and to the hood. We mounted a GoPro onto the fender for the other shots. The hearse was fun. I’ll be buying one when I get that first big check someday.

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Christian Ackerman Talks Hell's Belles and More

Dread Central: I thought the demon make-up was rather impressive especially considering when you’re making a short you don’t have the biggest budget at your disposal- can you tell us more about the artists behind the creature?

Christian Ackerman: Somehow, I’m lucky enough to have such talented friends willing to help me out. I befriended Dan Crawley and Chris Hampton on Dead and Gone in 2006. They’ve worked on huge projects like Watchmen, The Avengers, Thor, Star Trek, Benjamin Button, The Hobbit, and True Blood. I wanted the demon to look as badass as possible. If he looked scary, the humor would work. Dan and Chris kicked ass and eventually collected a few festival awards for it.

Also, we can’t forget Bonjah, who blew us all away portraying the demon Beleth, and Hilda Marquez for designing his costume. What the hell do demons wear? I have no clue, but we gave it a good shot!

Dread Central: You mentioned that you’re planning on developing Hell’s Belles into a feature film- what aspects of the story in the short are you going to be bringing to the feature and how do you plan on expanding this world? Will we see more monsters and creatures and adventures for our leads?

Christian Ackerman: Adria, Helena, and Beleth are the characters returning for the feature. Adria is a mortician at her father’s struggling cemetery, which is about to be overtaken by their ruthless rival. When a portal opens in the cemetery and unleashes a horde of demons, ghouls and goblins out to collect her soul, she has to regain her father’s cemetery while fighting to survive the night.

Chuck and I have had a blast writing it. Our goal is to make it into a trilogy following Adria and Helena’s adventures into Hell.

Dread Central: Anything else you’ve got coming up?

Christian Ackerman: In the spring, I plan on directing my next horror-comedy, a haunted house short Chuck and I wrote called Son of a Bitch. In the meantime, we’re focusing on finding representation, getting Hell’s Belles-the feature made and continuing the short’s festival run.

Have a look at the NSFW short below. For more be sure to visit the official Hell’s Belles website, follow the flick on Twitter, and “like” it on its Facebook page.

Hell’s Belles-A Dread Central Exclusive! from Christian Ackerman on Vimeo.

Indie Horror Month Exclusive: Christian Ackerman Talks Hell's Belles and More

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Interview: Director Jeff Burr Revisits Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

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Director Jeff Burr was gracious enough to give us here at Dread Central a few minutes of his time to discuss the Blu-ray release of his 1990 film Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Recently dropped on 2/13, the movie has undergone the white-glove treatment, and he was all-too-happy to bring us back to when the film was being shot…and eventually diced thanks to the MPAA – so settle in, grab a cold slice of bloody meat, read on and enjoy!

DC: First off – congrats on seeing the film get the treatment it deserves on Blu-ray – you excited about it?

JB: Yeah, I’m really happy that it’s coming out on Blu-ray, especially since so many people bitch and moan about the death of physical media, and this thing made the cut, and it’s great for people to be able to see probably the best-looking version of it since we saw it in the lab back in 1989.

DC: Take us back to when you’d first gotten the news that you were tabbed to be the man to direct the third installment in this franchise – what was your first order of business?

JB: It was fairly condensed pre-production for me, and there really wasn’t a whole lot of time to think about the import or the greatness of it – it was basically just roll up your sleeves and go. It was a bit disappointing because a lot of times in pre-production you have the opportunity to dream what could be – casting had already been done, but certain decisions hadn’t been made yet. A very condensed pre-production, but exciting as hell, for sure! (laughs)

DC: R.A. Mihailoff in the role of Leatherface – was it the decision from the get-go to have him play the lead role?

JB: No – I totally had someone else in mind, even though R.A. had done a role in my student film about 7 years earlier, and we’d kept in touch, and I’d felt strongly because I’d gotten to know him a bit that Gunnar Hansen should have come back and played Leatherface, which would have given a bit more legitimacy to this third movie. He and I talked, and he had some issues with the direction that it was going – he really wanted to be involved, and it ended up boiling down to a financial thing, and it wasn’t outrageous at all – it wasn’t like he asked for the moon, but the problem was that New Line refused to pay it, categorically. I think the line producer at the time was more adamant about it than anyone, and Mike DeLuca was one of the executives on the movie, and he was really the guy that was running this, in a creative sense. I made my case for Gunner to both he and the line producer, and they flat out refused to pay him what he was asking, so after that was a done “no deal” I decided that R.A would be the right guy to step into the role. Since New Line was the arbiter of the film, he had to come in and audition for the part, and he impressed everyone and got the part. He did an absolutely fantastic job – such a joy to work with, and he was completely enthusiastic about everything.

DC: Let’s talk about Viggo Mortenson, and with this being one of his earliest roles – did you know you had something special with this guy on your set?

JB: Here’s the thing – you knew he was talented, and I’d seen him in the movie Prison way back in the early stages of development and was very impressed with him, and he was one of those guys that I think we were really lucky to get him on board with us. I really believe that The Indian Runner with he and directed by Sean Penn was the movie that truly made people stand up and notice his work. Every person in this cast was one hundred percent into this film and jumped in no questions asked when it was time to roll around in the body pits.

DC: It’s no secret about the amount of shit that the MPAA put you through in order to get this film released – can you expound on that for a minute?

JB: At the time, I believe it was a record amount of times we had to go back to the MPAA after re-cutting the film – I think it was 11 times that we went back. What a lot of people don’t realize is after Bob Shaye (President of New Line) had come into the editing room and he thought that it was very disturbing, and cut out some stuff himself. He thought that it would have been banned in every country, and it was banned in a lot of countries but so were the previous two. It was definitely on the verge of being emasculated before even being submitted to the MPAA, and I would have thought just a few adjustments here and there – maybe a couple of times to go back…but eleven? It was front-page news in the trade papers then, and I think that the overall tone of the film was looked at as being nasty. The previous film (Chainsaw 2) had actually gone out unrated, and with the first film being so notorious, I think it was a combination of all of that, and now even the most unrated version of this would be rated R – that’s how far the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

DC: Looking back at the film after all this time – what would be one thing that you’d change about the movie?

JB: Oh god – any film director worth his salt would look back at any of their films and want to change stuff up, and with this being 28 years old, I can look back and say “oh yeah, I’d change this, this and this!” You grow and learn over the course of your time directing, and this was my third movie and my first without producers that I had known, so the main thing that I’d do today would be to make it a bit more politically savvy. I had always thought that they wanted me to put my vision on this film, and that wasn’t necessarily the case, so maybe I’d navigate those political waters a little better.

DC: Last thing, Jeff – what’s keeping you busy these days? Any projects to speak of?

JB: Oh yeah, I’ve got a couple of movies that I’m working on – I’m prepping a horror movie right now, and then I’ve got a comedy film that I’m doing after that. You haven’t heard the last of me! I’ve had a real up and down (mostly down) career, but I still love it – it’s what I love to do, and it’s still great that after 28 years people still want to talk about this movie, and are still watching it – that’s the greatest gift you can get, and I thank everyone that’s seen it and talked about it over all these years.

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Werewolf Short Werehouse Coming this Halloween

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Director Daniel Mark Young, whom you may remember for the horror shorts Stranger, Night Terrors, and Run, is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to complete his latest ambitious project, the werewolf short Werehouse. Like most of Young’s films, it will be penned by his frequent writing partner James Craigie.

As its name suggests, Werehouse will be a werewolf tale set inside, you’ve guessed it, a warehouse. A group of students seek refuge in the storage facility to escape from a violent protest, but they find that they may be in even greater danger after discovering that a ravenous beast may be trapped inside with them.

The short will star Amy Tyger, Harriet Rees, Oliver Roy, and Derek Nelson.

Werehouse will be shot in black and white, although the filmmakers are using a special technique to isolate the color red in order to highlight the copious amounts of blood shown onscreen. Should the funding be successful, filming is expected to commence in April, and the film will be released on Amazon Instant Video this Halloween.

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Los Angeles Overnight – Do Us a Favor and Watch This Exclusive Clip

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Weird. That’s exactly what this exclusive clip from the indie flick Los Angeles Overnight is, and we’re ready to share every pixel of it with ya! Why? Because we like weird. A lot.

The directorial debut of filmmaker Michael Chrisoulakis will launch a limited national, theatrical release on March 9, followed by a digital release through Freestyle Digital Media on March 20.

Synopsis:
Inspired by the L.A. Modern Noir genre and populated with distinct and dynamic characters, Arielle Brachfeld (Consumption) stars as Priscilla, a struggling actress who inherits a bevy of colorful villains after desperation drives her and her gullible boyfriend, a lovelorn mechanic (Azim Rizk, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), to steal big from the Los Angeles underworld.

No amount of preparation could ever prepare this actress for a blood-soaked role filled with seedy criminals and “hot loot.” Entirely shot in Los Angeles, the cast is appropriately peppered with titans of the Hollywood scene including Peter Bogdanovich, Sally Kirkland, and recent CineAsia Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Lin Shaye.

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Exclusive Clip – Primal Rage

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