I interviewed prolific indie film-maker Phil Herman by e-mail in April 2008.
How would you describe your films to someone (like me) who has never seen them?
“I make movies for the fans. Horror fans. They are original horror and suspense type films. They are of low budget nature but a lot of ambition and time goes into making them. I have been making movies for over a decade and have received cult status. We are very big in the underground and many of our actors and actresses have moved on to do other things.
“People know when they get our movies they’re in for a good time. They are the type of movies you get for a weekend night and watch with some popcorn and beer with your friends. They do not disappoint and have plenty of blood and T/A. While we have never gone Hollywood, thousands of people have seen our movies through small and self distributors. How would I describe my films? A good buy for your buck!”
How have your skills as writer, director and producer developed over the years?
“My skills as writer, director and producer has developed through input from my peers and associates. I started out making movies in my backyard with friends and family. I thought of ways to kill them and just shot that. I also noticed those little films that I shot in a day or two were generating interest in my neighbourhood and people were lining up to die for me.
“After dozens of those type of family slasher movies I ventured off the block and found a whole new world. But my simple movies became complicated. We needed scripts, locations and actors. It happened so fast that all of a sudden I was having screenings at halls and being interviewed and they were starting to sell.
“By wearing so many hats when making these movies, things move faster and there are not a lot of roadblocks - because I am in charge of everything. While it is tiring, things do go fast cause there is no waiting or decision making. I call the shots and thank God I have been working with great people all these years and things always go smooth during my shoots.”
Of all the technical developments in film-making (and film marketing) in recent years, which ones do you think are most beneficial to a small-scale B-movie maker like yourself?
“When I first stating making movies I had a Hitachi camera that weighed about 20 pounds and the portable tape deck that you had to carry that weighed another 20 pounds. Which was half my weight when I started making movies at 17! But we did it and edited from deck to deck and had a feature called sound-on-sound that we used to put music and effects over the original track. It was primitive but that was the way we did it back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s.
“Then things got better and super VHS came out and the decks were about $1,000 each then in the mid ‘80s. We used to go with our credit cards and buy them and return them after 30 days and got great results. The picture quality was far superior than regular VHS and there were no rainbows - they cut clear and accurate. Still primitive but we were making movies and they looked good.
“The biggest step up was the wide spread of the web. We started getting big when the web became a household name. Also the trade magazines like Draculina were a real big plus that got attention for our scream queens all over the world. Now the biggest achievement is computer editing. While I don't do editing anymore, things are moving so quickly with computer editing. Things can be corrected and assembled with a push of a button and movies can be done in a fraction of the time. Plus no generation is lost and what we shoot is what you see. It has helped and also brought the cost down on these features significantly.”
It is evident that your films feature plenty of female nudity - how integral/important is that to the horror stories?
“While we are never explicit with the nudity, I feel at this level of filming it is nice to see the naked form in its glory. The body should be seen and not hidden. When at home alone you’re naked and walking around usually - so why not in the movies? It is nothing to be ashamed of and people love nudity in the movies. How many times have you rented or seen a movie just because you heard your favourite star is in it naked?
“Plus, being low budget and not having big names or big explosions, I figure seeing nude girls replaces that. Plus fans of horror are big fans of scream queens, the driving force of these movies. A pretty girl on the cover will sell more movies than a handsome guy.
“All the big underground movies have nudity and push the envelope on what they can get away with. We’re tame compared to many of these other companies on how we display our nudity but fans love it and the girls get plenty of exposure through magazine layouts and offers to do other things. So everyone is happy! Including me who has to film them!
“It is important because, while we try not to exploit, we do show the natural form any chance we get to make things interesting and not shy away but show the whole body to stimulate the viewer!”
What does Into the Woods have to offer viewers?
“Into the Woods is our first feature in about six years. We have been making anthologies but I always feel that is more of a compilation of people’s work and I act as a producer on them. With Into the Woods I am back as full time everything. The movie is about a young lady called Danielle. She is stuck in a dead-end relationship with a married man. It takes a turn for the worse when he leaves her and then comes back and brutality rapes her.
“She is an avid runner and has always run away from her fears and lack of a happy successful life. Her life, which has turned upside down, has just got worse. On one of her runs, she mysteriously turns up in a place unfamiliar to her: on a lonely stretch of beach near an equally desolate, unrecognisable forrest. Stripped of everything she wakes, remembering nothing. With a few clues and constant torments, she runs from an unseen character that little by little reveals his intention and who he is. When she returns to reality, an explosive climax ties up all loose ends and conflicts.
“The movie was planned to be shot in six weeks back in April of 2007. The movie is 90 per cent outdoors which makes it a challenge. Plus for a few of the scenes the lead actress has to be nude in the woods. We were filming in a national park so that created a problem, ducking bird watchers and the park police. But we shot off hours and had little problems.
“But disaster struck on the second week of shooting when our actress Nancy Feliciano cracked her ankle in a chase scene. We had to shut down production. There was no shooting around it. She is an avid runner and was in crutches and cast for eight weeks. Then almost double that to get use of her foot again, it was so messed up. But thanks to her running before that and stamina that was developed over the years from that she was able to recuperate about 99 per cent.
“We were ready to shoot again in March 2008. We planned another six-week shoot and it went well except for the weather. It was supposed to be spring in NY but it felt like winter was never going to leave. The temps were in the high 30s, low 40s but she was a trooper and shot everything as planned. It is funny; the day after the last shoot, the weather was in the 70s - oh well!
“But this movie has great eerie scenery and is out in the woods with a very impressive cast: Nancy Feliciano, Joel D Wynkoop, Cathey Wynkoop, Dave Castigleone, Lilith Stabs, Tiffany Sinclair, Joe Scott, Darla Doom and Phil Herman.”
Which aspect of the film are you proudest of?
“I am proud of the star, Nancy Feliciano. She usually is not a star but just has a co-star cameo role in our features. She took the star role and ran way with it. She was great and proved herself as a real actress. Her wide range of emotion and agility for the part were really shown in her role.
“It was under gruelling and sometimes dangerous situations and she never once complained or threatened to leave. Her part was demanding because she is in almost every scene of the movie so she had to appear on the set 90 per cent of the time. She is a pleasure to watch and very nice to look at in this movie. We have been waiting a long time to feature her but the part never came up that she was interested in. Through all the terror she went through, she came out smelling like a rose and people will notice her performance as a standout role in the genre!”
What would you need to step your productions up to the next level (whatever that may be)?
“I think this movie will be the last for Falcon Video. We have reached our peak at this level of filming and need to reach the next level. I am shopping around a few scripts and getting a few bites. I really would love to see our next few features be produced by a bigger production company with financial backing to get these movies and stars the recognition they deserve. I have an impressive track record and resume with these features and hope that is enough for the big boys to look over few ideas I have. I feel the market is so dry that they need to start looking to the real indies and underground market for product and stop putting out remakes and sequels and give the horror fan what they want! Real horror!”
interview originally posted 25th April 2008