Set Visit Coverage: Tom Woodruff, Jr. Talks Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs
Tom Woodruff, Jr., is a celebrated and award-winning special effects makeup artist, and now he’s stepping into the directorial arena with Fire City: Interpreter of Souls. Dread Central was lucky enough to get an exclusive look-see on a special day. (There were demon fights!)
At the lovely location (an art deco building and mini-campus) in Los Angeles, we not only got a chance to interview everyone and watch filming – we even got a bunch of cool photos you won’t see anywhere else!
Dread Central: You have been with this project for a while, right?
Tom Woodruff Jr.: Through a couple different iterations. The first time I was ever made aware of it was when (the writer-producers) Brian and Michael came to me a couple of years ago with a script, I believe it was Fire City: Demon in the Darkness. And the script was honestly hard to get through because I am going through it in terms of what would the creature effects cost. I went in knowing that it was unbelievably packed with not just makeup but winged demons and creatures. It was just so huge that it read without a doubt like a studio film... a big CG movie. Like a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings thing, which was all going to be digital. I feel like I have seen this movie so many times, and they are never interesting to me anymore. The visuals are all so much the same. To me they become almost interchangeable. So I read the script, saying this is what it’s going to be, but they said no, we want to do all practical creatures. Which to me made it such a huge challenge! To think that anyone had the interest to do it in a practical way! That they would want to mount this kind of a project. So that was a huge starting point.
The first thing we decided to do was to create a trailer to try and get interest in the project. We decided to do this one character, which is the gigantic horn demon. So we did that and got the trailer made. Based on that trailer alone they started getting offers from studios and producers who wanted to make the movie.
DC: So how did you actually decide you were going to direct this particular one?
TWJ: At that point I was like, 'Look, I really want to direct this,' but they were a bit reluctant. So, to see what I would do with the material, we decided to do this ten-minute short called the Interpreter of Signs. It was a three-person job and we shot it out in two days. It got some really good reaction, and I loved working with Brian and Michael as producers and they liked working with me as a director so we just decided to go into this thing with our heads down and just make it work.
Kickstarter made this movie possible. I already had enough of a presence on Kickstarter because of studioADI, which is owned and operated by Alec Gillis and I. Alec had raised a lot of money to do a film called Harbinger Down, which Dread Central has been good about plugging and making people aware of. So, in the end, that and Fire City got funded and we both got this opportunity that we had both been wanting for years and years. Even when we were doing creature stuff, part of us always wanted to be able to be filmmakers. So finally thirty years later it was happening.
DC: As the director, what are you hoping the audience will take away from this film?
TWJ: I want the audience to see this as a great story first off. The audience has to experience some kind of an emotional content. Then through the makeups and the characters I try and create that. I just want people to accept my creations from the beginning as characters, not as creatures. So to me the biggest hurdle will not be making this movie in 18 days, but having the audience get on board right upfront by seeing these creations are more than just 'cool monster makeups.'
DC: I know there is a lot of action, there are demon fights and there are monsters and makeup, but can you talk a little bit about the dramatic aspect of it in the storyline?
TWJ: Like all good stories about monsters, it’s about the characters. It’s about the predicament they find themselves in. In the film we have a human girl who this demonic character is forced to save in an effort to salvage his ongoing demon world himself. So it’s this great pairing of this totally innocent human and this sort of jaded creature. It’s very much like Humphrey Bogart or Fred MacMurray film noir characters from the Forties. The truth is, as much as I love monsters, I also love movies from the Forties like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, etc. I love the term 'hard-boiled characters,' and that is what the Fire City characters are in my film. I really want Fire City to be evocative of a style of filmmaking that we haven’t seen for a while... if nothing else just to shake things up.
DC: I know you are kind of editing while you’re shooting, so how much can you be involved in the editing process?
TWJ: I have to be involved. Right now while we are shooting, the editors are doing an assembly, which is basically cutting what my preferred takes are just in the right order and not doing any real shaving. Once we are done shooting, then he will finish putting it all together. I will go back into it with him and with Brian and Michael and we will look at it and it will become something new. Scenes evolve. They're made once when they are written, made a second time when they are shot, and made a third time in the editing room. Each time they change somewhat.
DC: What was your favorite part of making the film?
TWJ: My favorite part has been the actual production because we had very little pre-production cause we had very little money. We didn’t have the money to pre-produce anything. Brian and Michael were good enough to get me like three days of rehearsals with actors, which is really hard to do on a movie of this level, but it made a difference. We worked out some of the scenes with most of the cast and we created a kind of spine to work with, but now we are in the real environment with the real set pieces and so things evolve and they get better because the actors bring something to it. So to me it’s just been a blast to see things evolve. There has never been a single boring moment on this set, as opposed to bigger movies I have done.
The film centers around a fragile balance that exists between humankind and the demons who secretly live among them and the crisis for all when this balance is broken.
Harry Shum plays an abusive alcoholic boyfriend who suddenly transforms into a caring and loving person, along with the rest of the humans in his seedy tenement building. Dependent on human misery for survival, the demons in the building begin to starve.
Writer-producers Brian Lubocki and Michael Hayes successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign for the film in August 2013. For more info visit the official Fire City website, "like" Fire City on Facebook, and follow Fire City on Twitter (@interpreterfilm).