Nothing Left to Fear: Exclusive Interview with Slash and Anthony Leonardi III
Back in his early rock ‘n days with Guns ‘n Roses, lead guitarist Slash spent a lot of time at The Sunset Marquis Hotel. Set just off the fabled Sunset Strip, in the 80s this was the place to party hard after playing hard just steps away at the Roxy, Whiskey, or Gazzarri’s.
Nowadays it is still a celebrity hotspot, but it’s lost some of its tarnish and has been renovated to reflect its new status as a lux destination.
Not unlike the rocker himself, who has long since renovated his health, married, and become a dad and a successful businessman. Not that he’s thrown down his ax or quit wearing leathers, but when we caught up with him at the Sunset Marquis last week, Slash was quietly sipping coffee (probably decaf) and talking about his future as a filmmaker.
Nothing Left to Fear marks his venture into the realm of horror from the other side of the screen. The veteran guitarist both scored and produced the film, and he brought on Anthony Leonardi III, an established storyboard artist, to make his directorial debut.
The movie features names such as Clancy Brown and Anne Heche in meaty roles, but lesser-knowns Jennifer Stone and Rebekah Brandes stand out as a pair of teenaged sisters who are forced to fight evil forces lurking in their deceptively sleepy new neighborhood.
Read on to see what the director and producer feel make this movie different from all the rest of the recent offerings.
Dread Central: So I know that you both like horror films. But can you talk a little bit about what your first, most formative memories are of scary movies?
Anthony Leonardi III: I think mine was mainly the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
DC: So really brutal, unlike your movie.
AL: Yeah, but what I think stuck to me about that is when I heard that [it] was a horror movie, and then I saw it, there was no blood in it until the end. And I think just seeing it, going into a room with chicken bones hanging, like terrified me as a kid. Seeing something different than where I live…
AL: Yeah, hopefully. Just seeing that slaughter room. And then it just became horrific. I think that movie scarred me, and also The Funhouse. That was the worst. My mom made me watch Funhouse.
DC: Way to go, Mom. Why’d she do that?
AL: Because it scared her, so she showed us when we were like six and seven. So those are my two, and then there are all the other ones. But I think 70s horror really had the most impact on me, because it always started off like you were watching a normal movie. And then it turned into horror. And today I think the horror movies look like a horror movie right off the bat. They look… there’s bleach bypass and there’s this weird contrast. It just tries to be scary right off the bat, and then it never really goes scarier, it keeps that, maintains that.
Slash: That’s true.
AL: So I mean, that was something that influenced us, that we tried. Because when you watch the movie now, we try to make it even pretty in the beginning. We never try to make it look like a horror movie. So it’s more of the situation environment concept of horror.
DC: I understand, Slash, that your dad had introduced you to War of the Worlds early on? All audio, that’s what hooked you?
S: When I was a little kid, my first six or so years were spent in this little village in England. And one of the things, my dad took me to a lot of horror literature. H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, it was that kind of stuff. One of the things that he gave me was this box of cassettes, which was the entire narration of War of the Worlds; which is what they played on the radio when all of England thought it was being raided by aliens. So that was pretty cool, and it definitely turned me on. I remember thinking of the first scary movie that I saw. I always talk about Night of the Living Dead, because that’s what I saw when I first came to the States. But in England, there was this one movie that stuck with me called Trog, which was great, I loved. And then there was a lot of Pit in the Pendulum.
DC: Oh yeah, that one got me too. I was very young when my dad showed me that one, at night of course.
S: Yeah, with Vincent Price, [I love] stuff like that.
DC: The days where they took care to build a lot of suspense. Now, I’m curious to know too, especially from you, Slash, about the musical connection to horror. We’ve had Robert Johnson with Crossroads, Jimmy Page’s own fascination with Aleister Crowley, Alice Cooper the alter ego with his snakes and onstage effigies. Why do you think that horror and the dark side goes hand in hand with rock music?
S: I get asked that pretty often, I even asked before I got into producing horror movies.
DC: Hey, I’m nothing if not unoriginal. So I take it after all these years, you have a good answer?
S: And I’m not sure exactly the answer, but there’s something innately rebellious about the sort of myths of horrors. Horror’s its own, it’s never been totally mainstream. It’s always been a little off center, and you know, sort of dark, on its own little island to itself. I sort of see rock and roll in its purest sense being very similar. And rock and roll has, it leans towards the dark side of humanity, as far as like what people actually venture to say. That normal Top 40 doesn’t necessarily want to talk about—that’s the darker side of human nature. It just sort of coincides with what horror movies are about; which is basically portraying a lot of our innermost fears and a lot of our darkest thoughts. So maybe the two, it’s just that they bridge this sort of thing where they come together. Plus, rock and roll music fits with horror.
DC: It does. Horror films have been doing really well lately, what with the Conjuring, the Purge, and even Insidious Chapter Two killed at the box office.
AL: And it’s just recently.
DC: Right. Even so, producing films, especially horror films, is sort of a risky venture. I mean, what are your hopes and expectations? What made you guys decide ‘we’re just gonna go all in?’
S: Well he’s a director, he’s a lot more broadminded. He’s got a big future. I personally, the only interest in making movies is in horror/science fiction. I have no real interest in—the only other thing that’s appealed to me that’s come to my attention a couple times is a really good schlock humor/horror kind of combo.
DC: Get Lloyd Kaufman to direct it.
S: But other than that, drama, comedy, and action films, that kind of stuff, for the sake of those styles, doesn’t necessarily interest me, to put that kind of work in. But horror, horror does, and there are so many things I want to explore in that realm.
DC: But do you think that horror is a good jumping off point for some people? For instance, I know James Wan is doing the next Fast and Furious, and Rob Zombie’s doing a baseball movie, you know?
AL: Well, Cameron did Piranha 2. It’s always been a good jumping off point.
S: I don’t plan on jumping that far. I mean, because I’m only in this for the fun of it. It’s not, it’s only, I’m having, it’s too new for me, and it’s too much for the fun of it, to call it any kind of career move. I’m not going to hang up my guitar or anything like quit my day job. So this is really for the love of producing something that I would like to see. You know, doing things that other people aren’t doing, sort of maybe changing the way people look at horror films, if it’s possible—if you can make that much of an impact. And so, I don’t know where the extended future is, I don’t have any big, long-term aspirations right now for me. As far as I can see, it’s just trying to find the next movie with a good story and going after that.
DC: Now from a directorial standpoint, how do you feel about it? Because I know you have more of a diverse background than just horror.
AL: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it really comes to what stories interest me. I mean, I don’t think I’ll do a romantic comedy soon. I have, the different things I’m pushing right now are so all over—I’ve animated stuff. I’m just much more of a high concept storyteller. And you know, it was one of those things where I was reading a bunch of scripts, and this story affected me when I read it, so I went after it. It was funny, I didn’t even know Slash was involved. It just said Slasher Films, so I thought oh no, a company calling themselves Slasher, they’re only going to want slasher movies. And you know, I read it and we just moved into a new place. And I loved it, it brought me back to the short story The Lottery: you know, it’s like everything’s normal, and then something else happens. We just moved in, and I was reading this story. I loved the idea of moving into a house and then finding out the whole city knows about it. That terrified me. So I think if we can find something that, to go after this one, something that was more of a universal terror that other people would react to. That’s kind of what brought me into it.
S: I was just thinking, this was definitely something. It’s my first production. And we sort of did exactly what we wanted to. I don’t think we tried to conform to what is popular or expected, even in this genre.
DC: That’s right, you didn’t. Nothing Left to Fear is not a home-invasion, found footage, POV movie with a Shyamalan twist at the end. How ever did you guys manage that?
AL: Because you’re put in a fence with horror films, it’s become that. I mean, that’s why we like 70s horror so much. You didn’t know it was going to be a horror film necessarily off the bat, or you didn’t know a kid was getting possessed. It didn’t start out that way. So that, and this story kind of interested me. And every time we saw something in the script, you know, and then you have the studio telling you ‘you have to have this’. We would see it, and just try and go, just off center, just enough of the audience it would still, it would resonate but they would still not know where it was coming or something was going to happen. And I think with the screenings we’ve had, people haven’t been able to predict what was going to happen but still be entertained.
S: It’s cool but, you probably saw it [Nothing Left to Fear], it sort of gets you into this thing where you know you’re going into it—there’s the forbidding music going on. But you get into this sort of getting to know the family. And you almost, after a while, start to forget you’re actually watching a horror movie, you know. There’s a couple stabs here and there. But when it picks up, it grabs you sort of like, by surprise. It yanks you into this other reality. And I think it makes it that much more exciting.
DC: Yeah, you do get to know the family first, and their relationships to one another and how they start to navigate their new surroundings. Now this place in which you set the film: Stull, Kansas, is actually real?
AL: Yeah, the first meeting he goes, “You gotta look up Stull, it’s real”. I go, “Really?”
S: I have ongoing research about it, so I’m really sort of—because I’m just finding so many layers of information. Because the residents there don’t say much. They say nothing goes on here, this is all fabricated.
DC: Really? You’d think they would want to cash in on it like Salem, or Transylvania.
AL: No, they hate it.
S: With every rumor, there’s always some semblance of truth. It goes way back to generations a couple hundred years ago. Actually, three hundred years ago.
AL: So, some of this stuff has to be factual. Whether that graveyard, I myself don’t believe the main graveyard is there, the gateway to Hell. I mean, there are other gateways, and you can find out about all of them. But there is another graveyard off the beaten path that the headstones are really ancient, and there’s some creepy people with headstones there, and there are photos of them. And I’m thinking this is where a lot of this paranormal, creepiness is really centered, where it starts. Anyways, it’s an interesting story. The guy who wrote it, Jonathan Mills, he delivered it as a script, we didn’t know anything about Skull, or any of this mythology. And it was just an intriguing little story.
DC: Wow, that’s great. I’m sure that would have really helped you from an emotional standpoint that it might be real.
AL: It would have worked even if it didn’t exist.
DC: Now, speaking of realism and going back a little bit on how you guys were pretty much allowed to do what you wanted to do…
AL: In a fence, I mean, we were still forced.
DC: I mean, there was some CGI in there. How much of that was because you had to do? Because I could have seen this without any CGI at all.
AL: Well, the CGI was only to play the darkness. Most of it is all practical effects.
DC: Right. Is that CGI, the spirit’s eyes in the trailer with the black around it?
AL: Yeah, it’s that whole darkness that she’s kind of containing. I mean, that was the only place. But the one thing we did do, because it is CGI, because we’re a small budget, I wanted it to feel like a 2D object coming out. I’ve seen some old paranormal footage, and you see the shadows coming out of the walls and that stuff at an early age always scared me. So I thought if all darkness is released.
S: I don’t know how we physically could have done all that blackness coming down the street and coming out the pit, going back into the pit, all that stuff, without a lot more money and a lot more time.
AL: Yeah, time’s a big thing. There might have been a couple spots for sure where we would have done no CG, but I mean we shot the thing in 20 days.
DC: Wow, did you really? Congrats.
AL: 20 days. That’s the one thing you don’t see on screen.
DC: It helps that your cinematography is fantastic. There are some rather Early Americana painterly shots in there, early on.
AL: Yeah, thank you. It was all, that was all pre-planning background, but 20 days is so fast. And we didn’t go overtime at all. So one day would be like, because I had done these elaborate storyboards, then lights would pop and go off. And you’d get there and be like we have 10 minutes to do three shots, let’s go.
DC: But you do have a great cast to help you out: Clancy Brown and Anne Heche. The rest of your actors too, the younger girls, are terrific. Can you talk a little bit about how the cast came together? Who brought them on?
S: It’s from every different angle, I think.
AL: Yeah, because Slash found Clancy, I found the kids. Anne Heche was found by another producer who goes to school with her kids. It came from everywhere. But the thing I liked, before we even started, we wanted to build a family that felt like a family. The original script had the bitchy girl and the goodie two-shoes, and I just wanted, like, sisters. I didn’t want the stereotypes. So once we kind of, I think the first cast we picked was Jennifer Stone, because she came in and was just phenomenal. So she was like the one sister. Then we found Rebekah and everyone kind of just built together as this weird, off-beat family. He has a good Clancy story.
S: Well, the Clancy story, I was a big fan of Clancy. We were struggling to find who could fill that role. And he popped into my head, and fortunately I had a friend who knew him. And said, get me in touch with him.
DC: He’s great. I loved him in “Carnivale,” and here is playing a slightly similar role. Now, did it take any convincing to get him back playing a preacher?
AL: No, we sent him the script and he just went for it. And when I met with him, I was concerned because Clancy is Clancy. He’s very powerful and he does scary people really well. And a choice we made early on was not to make it about, originally the script had a town of evil religious people. And I didn’t want, I felt that didn’t make sense. These people knew there was heaven and they knew there was hell, that they would be doing this, they would keep, they would be doing this as a burden. And when he read the script, that’s when he came in. He came in really sad about that. [spoiler deleted] It was like this huge burden in the room. It was just perfect, it was exactly what he needed to be. So he’s a character who does things because he has to, but he would do everything he could to save the family.
DC: Well Slash, we know that you also co-wrote the score. I was looking at the soundtrack listing, there’s like, 32 songs on there? That’s a lot!
S: Any real sort of score sounds, not one that has a lot of commercial songs in it, we have bits and pieces that are like 30 seconds, some that are a minute, some that are longer, shorter. So it ends up being a lot of different cuts.
DC: I just thought about this, this morning as I was driving in: I had the radio on and “Sister Christian” came on. And I was like, “Man, I hate that song”. But, Boogie Nights kind of makes it tolerable. On the other hand, Almost Famous practically ruined “Tiny Dancer” for me. So how do you feel about vocal songs that we all know and love being put into films to help drive the narrative?
S: You actually came up with it, that pretty much says it all. Great songs are great songs. How they get used in the movie and whether it’s going to compliment the song or take away from the song all depends on the movie theme and the director, and how it’s used. So, it’s really hit or miss for the viewer, to see what they’re going to get out of it.
DC: As a musician and songwriter, is that more of a mercenary thing, like, ‘Well it’s good money.’ Do you really think about the context?
S: Well, when we license stuff from bands that I’ve been in, you look at what it is that you’re getting involved with. And see whether you think it’s cool. But at the end of the day, you don’t know what it’s going to look like or sound like in context to the song. And you’re really at the mercy of the director. That kind of thing. So you sort of take your chances every time you do it, whether you really like it or whether you’re not sure. What you end up seeing at the end of the day, it’s all cut together, is something that only the director has control over.
DC: Alexander, how closely did the two of you work on the music? Because I’m sure you don’t want to tell Slash how to write a song, but you, Slash also want to defer to what your director’s vision is.
S: That’s the thing, this is his movie. So I just started writing stuff.
AL: Which is humbling to hear that, still, since the beginning.
S: That’s always been the thing, it’s always what the director wants. And so I would just send him bits and pieces of ideas that were inspired by the script and by the storyboards. Yeah, and he just sort of stockpiled the stuff and gave me a little feedback on what he liked—usually what he liked, if I didn’t hear anything, that one didn’t fly so well.
AL: And that was it. And I just kept at it, and when it came to actual scoring he introduced me to Nick O’Toole who’s an actual composer, scoring composer and sound designer. And he and I got along really well, he’s a genius. Every time I see the movie, I’m blown away by just the breath of his ability with soundscapes.
DC: Did you guys work together in person, or was it all email attachments and phone calls?
S: We worked together in person and via computer, you know laptops. Or from his studio and I was on the road, we would work together through that. But we were really, really tight all the way throughout. And then he was there as well, like every couple weeks he would come in. He would send reels in with the music on it, and every chance he had, he would come down. And really from an emotional point of view be able to communicate to us what something felt like or should feel like so we could make adjustments. I loved that, because it really showed me how to be in touch with every frame. And that makes you want to try and produce what it is that he’s feeling.
DC: Great collaboration.
AL: That’s what I was thinking too, it could have been [bad]. From the day we went, it was weird, we interviewed, we knew we were gonna make it, you just knew that everything felt too good. And then within weeks, I start sending him paintings, and concept illustrations, color, imagery from the movie, whatever I was thinking. And he would just take it and send me little musical notes back and themes. And that’s just kind of how it built. And then I would take those things I was directing and listen to them in my headset and like drive to set. So all this stuff, we were always moving around each other. And then right when the movie was done, we edited it, and that’s when it all came together. But nothing was very different from what we were originally bouncing back and forth.
S: And at the end of the day, since we’re on the subject, what ended up happening, which is really a blessing, sort of what we strive for. I think the actual visual and the sound, they are married so well, you can’t separate one from the other.
DC: Exactly. You didn’t go for the hard rock, driving guitar soundtrack for this suspenseful, slow burn story.
S: I think that’s what people want to assume, that I, having me involved. One, it would be a slasher/gore movie, and two, it would be rock. Doesn’t matter what it is.
AL: Well, I think it’s weird, because the story was such that we both restrained a bit. I’m very happy, he restrained going over the top music, and I restrained going over the top visually. Which the whole concept is cutting this crazy stuff. And I think now, it just feels like a movie, it doesn’t feel like I’m looking not hearing, or hearing and not looking. It just makes it an experience.
Nothing Left to Fear is set for release in select theaters on October 4th, 2013. The Nothing Left to Fear Original Motion Picture Soundtrack in set for release the same day. Learn more over on the Nothing Left to Fear Facebook page.
Nothing Left to Fear is the tale of a family whose journey towards a better life in a small town is savagely derailed by a charismatic but emotionally conflicted man of the cloth. The movie is based on the actual town of Stull, Kansas, which is surrounded by Internet folklore proclaiming the town to be one of the seven gateways to Hell.
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