Saturday, 27 April 2013

interview: Caleb Emerson

Caleb Emerson, director of Die You Zombie Bastards!, kindly answered some e-mail questions which I sent him in September 2006.

Can you explain briefly the origins of Red’s Breakfast and how that developed ultimately into Die You Zombie Bastards!?
“The Red's Breakfast films were each basically a different technical exercise that I did while in college. The first Red's Breakfast was a five-minute video shot on Hi-8 that I did as a final project for my ‘Intro to video’ class in 1995. I wanted to get into special make-up effects, so the whole point of that was to have an excuse to do a gore effect. There was no plot... just a guy who wakes up and rips open a girls stomach to eat her innards. Tim (Red) was my best friend at the time... and I thought he was funny as hell so I asked him to be in it. That's basically it. The next year, I ditched video to focus on film.

“It was a synch-sound class, and after a few short exercises we had a few weeks to put together a final ‘whatever you want’ project. So, I decide to go back to Tim and Red because we had so much fun the last time. I had just started seeing a girl at the time and was in the middle of a very happy time. So, I had Red be this total weirdo who finds the girl of his dreams... and that's pretty much the entire film: psychopath falls in love. That was Red's Breakfast 2: Dawn of the Red. Looking back on it now it's pretty shitty... but there's some good effects and I think it's pretty funny. It runs about 14 minutes and I think it cost around $1,500.

“My final year of school (1997/1998) we had basically the whole year to write, plan, shoot, edit whatever we wanted. Like a lot of kids in my class I wanted to make a giant epic feature film... which of course wasn't going to happen. So I decided to make chapters 1, 6 and 12 of a chapter serial feature. The beginning, middle and end of a feature film... each chapter would start with a recap of the previous one and a preview of the next. It ran about 22 or 23 minutes, shot on 16mm and cost maybe $5,000.

“As far as the story of Red's Breakfast 3 I was thinking of all of my options and I thought I hadn't seen a good superhero movie or a good zombie movie in quite some time (which is really funny now because of the utter onslaught of superhero and zombie movies that were dumped upon the world a few short years later). So Red became a zombie-killing superhero.

“After graduating college in 1998 I wanted to make a feature film... so I decided to finish what I had started. I redid some of my favourite scenes from the Red's Breakfast films and made Die You Zombie Bastards!. It was shot between 2001 and 2003. It was edited and scored through 2004 and had its premiere early in 2005. Now we finally have distribution and the film will be released in the US in January 2007 by Image Entertainment and in the UK by Odeon/Screamhouse (no date that I know of yet).”

Who exactly is/was Rockabilly Legend Hasil Adkins and how did he become involved with the film?
“Hasil was a musician from West Virginia. He made some of the most unique and maniacal country and rockabilly music of all time between the 1950s and 2005 when he passed away. My relationship with Hasil started in 1995 I guess. I did an unsolicited music video for his song ‘No More Hot Dogs’ for a class. I had a few of his records, but really knew nothing about him. I wanted him to see my video for some reason, so I wrote to the record label he was on at the time and they got me in contact with him.

“I sent him the video and he loved it... we became friends through letters and phone calls for a couple of years. I asked him to narrate Red's Breakfast 3 because of his... uh... unique speaking voice. His heavy Southern accent, mixed with his flamboyant outlaw stage persona and a little bit of insomnia and possible alcohol dementia made him nearly impossible to understand... which was what I was going for. Red's Breakfast 3 was so nonsensical that I thought an unintelligible narrator would be perfect, and I wanted an excuse to go and meet him in person. We had such a good time that Haig (co-writer of DYZB!) and I wrote an on-screen part for him in the feature film. I wanted him in the film, and I felt that he was such an overlooked genius that I wanted to capture him in his own environment in a sort of documentary way as well... so that's it. Red is on a road trip and he goes to see Hasil. We filmed him for one day in June of 2003. Although we talked on the phone several more times and exchanged a few more letters that was unfortunately the last time I saw him.”

There is some surprisingly subtle and clever humour in DYZB! and also some very unsubtle humour - what sort of balance were you aiming for?
“Good question. I don't really know how to answer it though aside from the fact that that's just me... that's my sense of humour. Sometimes I find someone mispronouncing a word or doing the perfect eyebrow arch just as funny, if not funnier, than a good dick joke. But I love them both. I love picking up on little things the eighth time I watch a movie, but I am also a big fan of getting hit over the head with an obvious joke. One of my favourite things to make (and now watch) was the world map showing Red's travels. I think that started when I sent Haig a copy of my draft of the Barundeb Duttah scene (that is supposed to take place in Pittsburgh) to get his input.

"He made changes and rewrote some stuff, added some stuff as was our writing process. The scene ends with Red diving into the ocean to swim to Sweden. I think Haig's final note on the scene was, "Uh... you know that Pittsburgh isn't on the ocean... don't you?" I never even though about it that way... so I said, well... in this movie it is. And I slowly started to completely fuck with the world map taking it way to far. So I guess sometimes I keep little things little, sometimes I go with them and just make them bigger. Does that answer the question at all? I got lost.”

How did you get Jamie Gillis involved and did he have any, ah, interesting stories about his extensive career?
“I just tracked him down online, which isn't hard to do, and asked him. I made him (what for this movie was) a pretty generous offer and he agreed. He seemed to like the script, and I think he was a little flattered, or at least appreciative that someone thought enough of his acting skills to use him in this way. Maybe that's presumptuous but it was the vibe I got. I didn't want him in the movie in a Ron Jeremy cameo kind of way, ie: ‘Hey... look... it's that old porn star... ha ha." I paid him because he was a name actor... but I cast him because he is a really good actor, he is funny as hell, and in my opinion he was perfect for the part. Does that make sense?

“Anyway... he was a joy to work with. I am a big fan of his adult stuff... but I didn't want to be too much of a fanboy annoying him with a lot of questions about his past. I did get a couple of On the Prowl questions in (the film Jamie directed that was recreated in Boogie Nights). And at the time we were filming (November 2003) the movie Wonderland (about John Holmes) was about to come out... or maybe it was just announced or something... and we talked about John Holmes and the recent interest in older porn films. But I don't have any revelatory pearls of info that were passed down to me in secret... just friendly small talk. I can't wait to work with Jamie again though... the two days he was on set were among the most enjoyable.”

DYZB! seems like you tried to fit in as many ideas as possible. Was there anything you wanted to include but couldn’t for some reason?
“Mmmmmm... not really. We found a way to do everything that we wanted to. I wish we had hired someone else to do the gore effects (for some reason I decided to do them myself... along with direct and co-produce the film). They look all right, but I wish there were more. Maybe I'm just being self critical. And I wish we could have afforded to do better film negative transfers. But overall I'm really happy with everything.”

How has DYZB! been received by audiences and critics?
“Really well actually. I was expecting to really get torn apart by some of the online critics who seem to be brutal just for fun sometimes. But every screening we've had has gone really well. We won ‘Best Feature’ at the Lausanne Underground festival in Switzerland, ‘Best Feature’ at the Backseat Film Festival in Philadelphia and ‘Best International Feature’, ‘Best Screenplay’ and ‘Best Actor’ (Tim Gerstmar) at Tromanale in Berlin.... and pretty much all of the reviews have been great. Our Film Threat review was pretty mediocre, but it looks like they just gave the movie to the wrong guy. He said it reminded him of a ’Trauma’ film, so clearly this kind of movie wasn't his cup of tea. But the review still wasn't terrible. The only bad review we have received so far was on some guy's blog who was in the audience at Fantasia and he hated it. But all of the big guys like Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting etc. have really liked it.”

It’s probably the most Tromatic non-Troma film I’ve ever seen. Were you aiming to make a Troma (or Troma-esque) film?
“No, not really. Haig and I both wear our influences on our sleeves. You can see blatant stylistic references to everything that he and I both love. I think that the Troma style is so in your face that it's hard to ignore.... or it's the easiest to pick up on. I love Troma (I worked on Citizen Toxie and the new film about to be released, Poultrygeist) and Lloyd and Michael's films have been a huge influence on me ever since I was a wee lad. But I think if you look you'll see some very non-Troma stuff as well. I think that's one of the reasons we decided to go with Image as a distributor too. Troma has a lot of die-hard fans that will buy anything they put out. But unfortunately, they also have a lot of people (and stores and critics) that are kind of put off by them and we didn't want to alienate ourselves from those people. I don't mean that to sound disrespectful at all... I just want as many people as possible to see this film.”

Is this the last we’ll see of Red and Violet or do you have plans to bring them back again?
“Maybe in ten years with a much bigger budget. But I would not make another cheapie film with these characters.... mostly because I have been doing it for ten years now and I'm a little sick of them and I want to do something else. I think it would be very fun to do an overblown Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back kind of thing after we've done a few more films... but for now it's time to move on. Although, Haig has been working on a screenplay for a sequel. It centres more around the Maldonato Sisters and Red's father Thierry... they team up to hunt a walking shark... and it looks pretty awesome... but for now I'm looking to do something very different (but I would definitely use actors Tim and Pippi in anything that I do... because I think they are both marvellous).”

interview originally posted 14th October 2006

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