Interview: Producer Heather Buckley Talks Punk Rock, Horror, and THE RANGER

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Producer Heather Buckley has been a hardcore horror fan and punk rocker her entire life. In addition to producing an incredible amount of films, she’s an actress, horror journalist and all around horror junkie. She decided to be a producer on The Ranger, which is her friend Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut. The film is a fun and terrifying punk rock infused, eighties style slasher and stars Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm. Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Heather Buckley about The Ranger, punk rock, horror, and so much more! Read on to find out what we talked about.

Heather is doing a career talk with Michael Ironside on July 20th at Fantasia Film Festival. Click here for more information.

The Ranger premieres at Fantasia Film Festival on July 23rd at 9:30 pm.

Dread Central: I know that you’ve been a huge fan of horror since you were very young and in addition to being a producer you’ve also been a journalist for sites like Dread Central and Fangoria. Do you still find time to write and what do you enjoy about it?

Heather Buckley: I’ve worked with Dread Central for ten years. I worked with them way back in the day and Fangoria, and Diabolique. When I was a young girl, I was an outsider, I was a punk rocker, and I was an artist. I was interested in things like reading and literature and stuff like that and philosophy, which was strange for a child. Reading about criticism and reading about horror films and knowing there was a world out there and that aesthetic, helped form who I was. And the idea that I was in that position to put  all that content back out to the world with interviews, reviews on films, interviews on genre and dealing with it in such a way that it mattered. A lot of critics are going to say it’s a horror movie and aren’t going to take the time to go through the aesthetic and the story. I wanted to take the time to treat it as I would treat any art form, high art, literature, and films. Thinking of it in that way and putting it out there, the voices like when I was a little Heather, need that to form who they are. They needed to read stories about their favorite actors and directors and the creative process and horror movies.

When I was very young I was influenced by writing in my field that had more of an academic feel about it and talked about genre as a perspective and point of view that went over like avant-garde cinema. In contemporary genre, I feel that people want to talk about genre in a more elevated way like, while I would argue that genre was always elevated because it’s part of a continuum that started with Biblical, Shakespeare, there’s a whole line of transgressive philosophy about horror. It’s sort of to keep that tradition alive and make sure that the folks that need that content have it. It’s giving back. I was never paid for writing for ten years. It’s much like how some give to the church. I gave to Dread Central and Fangoria, and all those other places, and so when I have a chance to talk to great people, it’s to get those stories out there.

I always feel that with horror people that we’re able to row over to the other side of the River Styx and gather up all the sort of ghoulish flowers that are over there and bring them back to civilization untouched and tell them what we saw. And I think interviewing, which I love to do the most, allows that. It’s to have someone go out there, grab these beautiful, arcane things and celebrate them. I think it’s important to do. I look at it like I look at my DVD supplement work, and it’s the same thing with producing. The idea of going out there and making sure certain things get out there, being very dedicated, very focused, and understanding the audience. They are all extensions of a certain personality type and a certain affection for genre, film history, things that are forgotten, and things that aren’t beautiful like what society thinks is beautiful.

DC: You’ve produced a lot of films. What appealed to you the most about the story of The Ranger and why did you want to be involved with this film?

HB: I was initially given the screenplay about three years ago. Jenn is my friend and we were at Fantasia at the time. I sat down and I read it and I said “This script reminds me of my friends. These characters remind me of my friends. They’re so funny in that East Coast punk rock sort of way.” I wrote down how I would market it and how the audience would look like because, I myself, was a Creative Director/Creative Lead in Advertising in Manhattan for thirteen years. If you’re an artist you should know who you’re directing your signals to. This is what your soundtrack should look like, it sounds sort of like California punk, it’s very energetic, and it’s thrashy. It’s the music that I listened to in New York City. It’s a lot of English street songs, a lot of New York hardcore, it’s that crazy upbeat nature.

Jenn just had me read it as a friend, but slowly unbeknownst to me, I started to produce the film. I would go on Tumblr and I would send her images. Because part of my old Creative Director self is like part of your job is to be an inspiration for the works you’re going to implement.  I was always in a position to say “Oh you like this? You’re working on this? Well, here’s some images.” It wasn’t about direction, it wasn’t about anything other than “I know you’re working on this project and I thought of your project and this is a cool image. I don’t know if it helps you with your project.” So, I would do that a lot. I would send her punk rock pictures. I would send her eighties pictures, and crazy vintage eighties ads and some color pattern that she was interested in.

I was just doing that as a friend not thinking anything of it, but I was always curious because of my ability to talk to businessmen and my ability to talk to creatives. I always thought, because I had a background pitching, would I be able to pitch to investors? I would know how to break down the argument of how to talk to investors, talk about who would be involved, the movie and what sort of audience it would hit. My friend Kim Garland one day introduced me to an investor in Canada and I said to Jenn, once again not wanting to be a producer, just as a friend to have another friend’s project made I said “Can I pitch this investor?” So I pitched the investor and he was interested in it. Then Jenn asked me at some point “Heather, do you want to be my Co-producer?” I was honored because I wasn’t angling for Co-producer, I was just being helpful. Somehow I became Executive Producer and then on-site producer to tend to the punk rock aspect of it.

After that I went to my close friend Andrew van den Houten and I pitched the movie, but it wasn’t time for him. Sometimes time doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you show them a project and they love it so much, it’s not time to invest. So, he gave me some wonderful advice because Andrew is a friend of mine. Then we submitted to co-productions at Fantasia. Of course we’re all veterans at Fantasia and she got in. We did a little teaser. The theme of the film is sort of these bright colors with an eighties vibe. I feel like the Ranger has sort of a giddy, nice nature, which to me is counter to a lot of the eighties slashers where they’re really scary. That sort of tells you where the heart is. You can have a heart of darkness or you can have a Halloween heart where it’s a great celebration and a great affection of the genre, which I believe The Ranger is.

Andrew called me up and said “Heather, don’t send that script to anybody! I’m going to make that script.” Because I’m a freelance producer myself kind of like the Outlaw Josey Wales, I walk alone through the desert of genre cinema. So, Glass Eye Pix put me under their wing and then Hood River and Glass Eye worked together for the first time. I know Andrew and Larry Fessenden always wanted to do a project and this one seemed like the one to do. We went through the process of locations and looking at the line budget and just being a part of it. Jenn also, other than being a cool, fucking girl, she’s made all those great films with Mickey Keating and with Glass Eye Pix. Her dream and her heart was always to be a director.

At co-production when I sat down with the investors, in my heart I said, “This is Jenn’s dream. This is a girl’s dream. Please have the dream come true.” There’s always a drive for women in horror, but I think in general we sort of saw how women were treated in the industry. I don’t think anyone really took it dead serious that we knew what was going on, so we were created before the Weinstein fallout and then we sort of arrived in this post-MeToo world with all these other great female movies. For example, we were doing a film festival with Revenge, which I like a lot.

The outpouring of support for the film is incredible and the idea that it should do a film festival, because it’s a punk rock movie and I think the slasher film is kind of a proletariat genre, and it’s for everybody. We get requests from horror fans on social media to try to book it where they are. They go “I need to see it.” And it’s wonderful. It’s fun because anyone who follows The Ranger account on Twitter, it will follow you back in true slasher style (laughs).

I also want to talk about Night of the Demons because that’s where I heard Bauhaus for the first time. That’s an authentic punk rock soundtrack and I hope The Ranger is the same way. My favorite soundtrack when I was a kid was Fear No Evil because The Sex Pistols were on it. When I listened to The Ramones, and specifically The Sex Pistols, I said “This sounds like myself.” So, it’s not like punk transformed me in a way, it’s like it’s something that you always were. I could recognize some of the nature of the music, the rawness of the music. Those are all legendary punk rock bands that are in The Ranger soundtrack. Jenn, as a director, really embraced having a punk rock soundtrack and embraced having that look and feel to the characters.

At some point, like in the nineties, punk rock was a combination of media punk that you saw in film like Night of the Living Dead, and actual punk rock fashion coming directly probably from The Ramones. What Jenn’s going for in The Ranger is sort an iconic punk rock look. My friends in the city, we all look the same. We all wear black with studs on it. But when you’re making a movie, you want to go for their clothing all looks different from each other and it’s very specific and it’s very symbolic. All those patches in The Ranger are hand screen-printed and all those studs are done by hand because we really care about those details.

What attracted me to this film is they sound exactly like my friends. The other reason is that when I read the character of the Ranger I went “He has to be a villain because the story is about a final girl which in some ways is Jenn’s story, but my story is the story of someone who is sort of a hardcore, committed person.” To me those are always the villains and the supervillains. When I read the part of the Ranger, I knew he had to exist and the characters have to exist. When I produce a film I look at the story and I look at the characters and ask myself if I want those characters to exist. Should they exist in the real world? When we were casting, we looked at folks reading the lines and making what is fiction into reality and I had such a profound feeling. This is why people make feature films. Bringing something that isn’t real into reality and making it real is incredibly powerful.

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DC: The Ranger has an amazing cast and some really impressive performances. How closely did you get to work with the cast and what was your favorite thing about working on this film?

HB: My favorite thing working on this film, I love them all, is that I have a horrible punk rock car that I drive and everyone wanted to ride in the producer’s car. It doesn’t have the spray paint on it, but it’s pretty much like The Return of the Living Dead car. It’s like a battle axe. It’s going to last forever. It’s a thirteen-year-old Pontiac Sunfire. My favorite thing was probably bringing the cast back and forth to set while telling them punk rock stories from back in the day and CBGB stories and playing punk rock music. A lot of the cast wasn’t exposed to that music. We listened to The Clash and The Misfits, of course because I’m from Jersey and they’re a very important band to me. Then Jeremy Holm and I would be in the car pretending that we were serial killers. That was the bonding going back and forth to set. It was storytelling, punk music, and improv.

That punk show in the movie is an actual live punk show. My friends and people I didn’t know all showed up and so we were filming at a live show. A lot of the actors said seeing that energy that they wanted more of it. For a lot of them, it was the first time they ever saw punk rockers. I’m glad they were exposed to the counter culture of it. Jeremy Holm would be in character in the woods and Adam Torkel, who did the EPK, was taking video of him giving PSAs around trees and kissing trees (laughs). He stayed in character and he’s incredibly funny and he could be menacing at the same time. I told him that he gave me “menacing envy” because he’s able to be more menacing than me. I can’t do it (laughs)!

DC: The Ranger is very nostalgic and has that 80s slasher vibe. Are you a big fan of 80s horror movies?

HB: I think a lot of people wanted this movie to be like Maniac Cop and didn’t want it to be her story. It’s not a body count film. It’s actually a story about the final girl. I would compare it to something like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon because in that film it’s a mockumentary until it becomes an actual slasher film, and at some point, The Ranger becomes a slasher film. Other than that, you’re learning about the girl who would become the final girl. You have to be interested in her story and her friends. I fucking love Maniac Cop. I love Ghoulies. I watch horrible, annihilistic, disturbing stuff. I watch all kinds of movies, all the genre stuff.

I also write about it from a historical perspective, so I have to watch all this sort of craziness. If I did a comparison of the character the Ranger, it’s more like Mick in Wolf Creek, who has a gun and a lot of silly stuff to say. I think in The Ranger the humor comes from a sort of kind-hearted nature the way Jenn looks at horror films. Jeremy has the ability to be menacing and funny at the same time. It’s a perfect combination of what he’s able to do. Everything about him is perfect. He’s also written his own fan fiction of what The Ranger sequels would be like (laughs). He dreams that one day there will be a Ranger action figure. The fans must demand it. They must go insane. We’re working on merch so people can have things from The Ranger.

DC: I love The Ranger and I can’t wait for it to get out there so more people can see it.

HB: Oh, that is awesome! My friend Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian, her short 42 Counts, is actually playing before The Ranger at Fantasia. That’s so exciting because I love Jill so much. She’s totally awesome and she’s also a hairstylist. She has a client who is a ranger who mentioned the movie The Ranger! That’s the first time we heard that. That’s a legendary story. Rangers have heard of the movie The Ranger and that’s wonderful. This movie should play everywhere because it is for everyone. Let me tell you, working with Larry Fessenden was incredible. I’m sure when you talked to him you got that vibe that you’re almost talking to a holy man.

DC: Do you have a favorite horror movie and why?

HB: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre! My two favorite and most influential horror movies are The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and if you want to track back to my interest in punk, it is because of the raw nature of those films. I feel that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre transformed modern horror films. When Tobe Hooper died, I was so affected because of the thought of a world where he was never around. I have The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 on 35mm. The more that I watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the more I love the iconography of Leatherface.  It feels like you’re in that movie. It feels like a documentary. That sort of acting style is incredibly hard to pull off. It’s alive, it’s in the moment. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is just such an incredibly dark film.

Both films are very direct and the type of imagery they have and the type of characters they portray. I think it’s very brave to make something that raw and put it out into the world. The physicality of Kane Hodder as Jason in Friday the 13th Part VII is such an inspiration for me as someone who is 5’11” and in all my punk rock gear. I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre series. It’s very important to me.  I love the idea of togetherness and being in your own crazy world with the people that you’re around. How can that not be my punk rock friends? Eighteen years I’ve known these people and I love them more than anything else. That is my family.

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