Friday, June 20, 2014

DVD Review: to Jennifer

Text by Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2014
Images from the Internet


to Jennifer
Directed by James Cullen Bressack
Psykik Junky Pictures
MVD Visual
76 minutes, 2013

Joey (Chuck Pappas) is convinced that his long-distance girlfriend, the titular Jennifer (Jessica Cameron), is cheating on him due to a text message she sent to someone else. Taking the Bobby Vee song, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” to heart, he takes his unwitting and abrasive cousin/friend Steven (the director, Bressack) along to record the events on his phone as a hostile witness.

In fact, this is self-reportedly the first film ever shot entirely on an iPhone 5. Yes, that does make it a “found footage” pseudo-documentary kind of deal. And man, it takes a while for anything to happen. After an extended airport set piece that is supposed to show state of minds but just drags, They hook up with stoner Martin (Jody Barton, an old pal in Jennifer’s town. They meander more than focus on anything.  In the first half hour there is a boring party, a fistfight without context and meaning, a trip to an old motel that was once the scene of a crime… All in all, in the first hour, there’s actually about 5 minutes that adds anything to the actual story. 

There is absolutely no character development other than shrillness and macho posturing. Even the introduction of some hollering around a couple of prostitutes (real life porn star Nella Jay and trans Kitty Doll) into the mix does nothing to advance the plot, and is a waste of good talent. Jay steals all her scenes. All this section did is make me want to take Joey’s poser hipster stocking hat and shove it in his mouth to just shut him the fuck up. And Bressack’s annoying voice and cackle as he videos (and of course he’s the loudest holding the camera) keeps me this close to wanting to hit pause.

So, the first big reveal an hour in? Figured it out earlier, when the event supposedly happened. An hour and three minutes in, during the first suspenseful moment in the film, a stupid – I mean really, really stupid question, almost ruins the mood.

Here’s a thing I learned in the 1980s, while watching Linda Blair’s Hell Night (1981): during a scene where someone is roaming around and you’re expecting something to jump out can last too long, making suspense dip into viewer impatience. But I didn’t advance the DVD at all, and waited to see what would happen. Do I get some kind of award? Second stupid question at 1:05. 

It finally starts getting a little interesting at 1:07, but again, ruins the moment by more roaming. And by sheer stoopidity (slight spoiler alert): why the fuck would some who is being hunted stay on the grounds of the house, and not run as far away as possible? Hey, even Michael’s sister Laurie knew to run to a neighbor, and that was in 1978, fer krissake.

No, I won’t spoil the ending, but I’m hoping I won’t have to see a sequel.

The only extra is a commentary track with the three mail leads.  Thankfully they actually talk about the film, though they seem to have enjoyed it more than I did, with lots of laughing and joking along with the information.

In sum, the length of this review belies the depth to which I think – or actually don’t think – about it. It would have made a decent 15 minute short, but there is just not enough happening to warrant the full length treatment. To be a bit balanced, reviews I’ve read disagree with me, so there are those that liked it.

Usually I champion indie filmmaking, especially one that uses technology in a way that’s never been used before, but this just a barking dog with no teeth. Okay, perhaps three, but two of them have cavities.

Bonus video:


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Questioning Steve Rudzinski, genre filmmaker, writer, and actor

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2014

Images from the Internet

Perhaps it’s something in the Pittsburgh water? Though born in central Florida, not too far from Disney World, Steve Rudzinski grew up in George A. Romero territory. And like Romero, Steve started dipping his talent into the filmmaking pond at an early age, starting with small films and growing from there.

Obviously into the horror/comedy genre, but not necessarily leaning toward excesses, his films include Basic Slaughter (2007), Everyone Must DIE! (2012) [Reviewed HERE], the Power Rangers inspired Super Task Force One (2013), and more recently, Captain Z and the Terror of Leviathan (2014) [HERE].  

While his canon is quickly growing, Steve does not overextend himself, taking time from writing and directing by acting in other people’s films, such as Cary Hill’s Scream Park (2012) [HERE]  and Henrique Couto’s Depression: The Movie (2012).

As with many other micro-budget filmmakers, Steve has managed to take a minimal amount of capital and turn it into a piece of work that looks way beyond its actual cost.  His locations range from western Pennsylvania down into West Virginia, all to good effect.  Also, as is happily becoming the norm, he has been assembling a troupe of actors that are not only getting better over time, but often double as crew, such as the hilariously surly Scott Lewis (who also does cinematography and editing), and Aleen Isley and Lacy Brooks, who have done make up effects), and adds new talent all the time, such as the scene-stealing Madison Siple in his latest, Captain Z.

I wanted this Q&A to be informative, yet fun, and hopefully that will come across.

Indie Horror Films: What draws you to filmmaking; was it a passion when you were a little kid and you made small films, or did the bug catch you a bit later? How did your 16 year old self get started?

Steve: When I was around 12 I saw Army of Darkness in the Sci-Fi Channel.  I always was a story teller, even if it was a dumb kid terribly drawing comic books.  So I thought about writing for comics, writing for video games, always wanted to tell stories.  But Army of Darkness solidified my filmmaking future.  So I started making terrible films at 16 and just kept working my way up.  I’ve never felt like I made a wrong choice.

IHF: How did you get from central Florida (Leesburg) to Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), and do you only live in or near cities that end in “-berg”?

Steve: I moved from Florida to Pennsylvania when I was very young so that I didn’t have much say in.  But I also spent time in other states while doing film work, both coasts, LA for a bit.  Found myself in Wheeling during a downtime in film jobs due to how cheap it was then found myself near Pittsburgh again because of family.

IHF: Who were the directors/films you admired that inspired you, and are there any other micro-budget directors you admire, and why?

Steve: When I was younger I really looked up to Sam Raimi for his comedy style (regardless of genre) and Robert Rodriguez for how hands on he was (and still is) with his filmmaking.

As for other indie guys the one I think is best is Dustin Mills [including The Puppet Monster Massacre, Bath Salt Zombies, Easter Casket, and Skinless, all reviewed on this blog elsewhere – IHF].  He really understands the movies he makes and how to make them.  His movies are all great, even the ones I personally don’t like as much, and even better yet he’s very humble about it.  I know some guys that think they’re god’s gift to indie filmmaking (usually thanks to chance connections) yet rarely impress me.  Dustin is a cool, good person and filmmaker that always makes awesome entertaining movies.  And working with him on Super Task Force One was a dream.  I’d love to work with him more hands on for a feature (although we have plans for him to create a puppet for my next movie) and if I could ensure two filmmakers getting a sustainable career in the business, he’d be right after me.

IHF: I am assuming you were a Power Rangers fan growing up. Why, and how did that influence you?

Steve: I was and still am.  It (and its original Japanese counterpart, Super Sentai) is just a really fun show.  It’s light hearted, funny, but often times (not always) can tell a serious story with real consequences and fantastic action scenes.  But above all, Power Rangers/Super Sentai was at its best when it told a real story without taking itself seriously.  That is a piece of influence I took, to never take myself or my films too seriously.

IHF: You do a lot of filming in Pittsburgh and Wheeling, WV. Do you have a place you prefer to shoot?  And do you prefer indoor or outside shootings?

Steve: Outdoor shooting has one advantage, if it’s daytime, the sun is a fantastic light source.  Short of diffusers or reflectors you don’t have to care about setting up lights.  But other than that, indoor is absolutely preferred.  Sound is easier, temperature can actually be controlled, time is never an issue for light.  If I could afford a stage to make things look like “outside” I’d shoot inside all of the time.

IHF: What kind of camera do you use, aspect ratio, you know, fill us in on some of the more technical info.

Steve: Tech info would be a better question for my go-to cinematographer, Scott Lewis.  I can say that EMD! was filmed on a Canon t2i with a bunch of different lenses.  Super Task Force One with a t3i, also a basic 1.77 ratio.  Captain Z was with two cameras, t4i and t3i, with a multitude of lenses and made to be 2.35 to be more cinematic.

IHF: Your characters are often the comic relief, but they are also authority figures, such as a professor (Captain Z), the green Super Task Force One unit, a class president candidate (EMD!), or amusement park manager (Scream Park).  What is about this type of role that attracts you, and do you write them specifically for yourself?

Steve Rudzinski: Ha!  I never realized or thought about this.  It was always a case of circumstance, I suppose.  I needed to save a few hundred bucks on an actor for EMD! and Pete just so happened to be my favorite, Scream Park I was hired for, and the producer of Captain Z was the one that wanted me to be the co-lead.  I guess I seem like an authority figure.

IHF: In your films, if you had your preference, would you use more CGI or appliances, and how did you hook up with puppetmaster and filmmaker Dustin Mills?

Steve: I’ve always said you should use a combination of practical and CGI.  I don’t like filmmakers that just use CGI, being dependent on it.  But I also don’t like filmmakers who go out of their way to use only practical effects, as if something is wrong with CGI.  It’s turning down an entire tool that, when combined symbiotically with cg, can create things you would could never do with just practical.

I met Dustin at a convention and quickly became friends with him, then loved his films and what he could do.  We really connected and share really similar ideas with filmmaking, at least I think so.

IHF: Often characters of both genders are not the generic beauty queen/six-packed macho types. Is there a particular message you are purposely trying to convey, is this who is responding to your acting requests, or is your fiancée watching you?

Steve: Generally I just cast women I find attractive, which usually just ends up being more realistic women, I guess.  I’m not really going out of my way to make a statement, but maybe my subconscious is trying to tell people something.

IHF: While there is ample cleavage, you don’t really show any sex or nudity. Same question as above.

Steve: Sex I feel should be used as a story reason, not have it just to have it.  I love nudity in movies, it’s always fun, nudity is never a big deal.  But sex just seems pointless at times. Not always, not even the majority!  But I don’t insert it unless it’s for a reason.  The reason can be petty and stupid, or ridiculous and comedic, or offensive with a point.  Just anything more than, “meh, whatever I guess sex.”  But that’s just personal preference.

IHF: Other aspiring filmmakers certainly want to know: How did you fund your films when you started as opposed to how you do it now?

Steve: I just saved up my money to make my movies, cutting corners wherever needed to make it affordable.  Now I do that with a mix of crowd funding.  Captain Z was nice because it was a producer so while it wasn’t my movie on an ownership or final say level, it was really nice to make a fully budgeted movie where everyone got paid without having to spend a cent.

IHF: Why horror comedies; will you ever do an equivalent of Interiors (Woody Allen)?

Steve: I’m a funny guy and not only do I love horror, but it’s the easiest to sell.  As for getting out of my comfort zone, it may have been no Interiors but Super Task Force One was definitely a challenging genre to take on.  Maybe in the future I’ll tackle a serious drama or something.  But since EMD! I’ve made STFO and Captain Z; it’s actually been two years since I made an actual horror/comedy.  I’ll soon be raising money for my next film which will be my return to hard R horror/comedy.

IHF: How about an anecdote about a moment that turned out better than you were expecting.

Steve: In Captain Z & the Terror of Leviathan, Vepar throws Glen (my character) away several yards.  We weren’t sure how to do this and when speaking out loud, I said it would have been funny if it was similar to Bruce Campbell flying backwards in Evil Dead 2.  This wasn’t an option since we had no equipment.  But Aleen Isley said, “What if you just wrap your legs around Scott [Lewis] and he runs with you?”  Scott and I looked at each other with faces of “well...let’s try it.”  It wouldn’t work, there was no reason why it would work.  But we figured why the hell not and tried it.  And dammit, not only did it work and look great, but it’s hilarious.
IHF: Who of your actors do you think might have a chance as a breakout star?

Steve: I can name several who could go far if a lucky break found them: Aleen Isley, Madison Siple, Ben Dietels (his Website is HERE), Dan Christmas, Shawn Shelpman, Wendy Wygant, Alicia Marie Marcucci, all of these people very well can have bright futures in the entertainment industry.

But if I was forced to choose one?  Seth Gontkovic.  I am so glad he auditioned for EMD! and has been part of every film I have made since then. Seth Gontkovic is an amazing actor that can do any role.  He’s played three very different roles and nailed every single one while also being extremely dependable and professional.  I think he can have a great future in acting.

IHF: Do you enjoy the Comic / Film conventions circuit, do you often participate in them to sell and/or promote your films? And do you do cosplay at them?

Steve: I used to do it more, but DVD sales are conventions are very hard now.  It used to be easy to make bank at any convention, now it’s a chore to break even.  So I tend to stick to local cons I don’t need a hotel for.

I usually just go and enjoy the shows, I do also often cosplay.  It’s super fun.

IHF: Many of your films seem to end with the indication of, if not just sequels, but possible franchises. Do you prefer multi-release films, are you just teasing, or are you just leaving the door open for possibilities?

Steve: I have begun writing The Survivors (working title) which will have characters from The Slasher Hunter, Everyone Must DIE!, Wolfster [Part 1: The Curse of the Teenage Vamp, 2006], and even Captain Z on a team fighting against The Killers from Everyone Must DIE!.  I like large universes where everyone is on the same world and just kind of had an itch to make my own team movie.  After I make this (which may not be shot for a while) I doubt that I’d make another team movie like that.  But since I still like combined universes, characters from other films will probably still show up.

As for future sequels, I like leaving open the possibility while solving the story in the film.  I don’t want major things left over in the movie I’m telling (unless it’s like EMD! where I knew I was answering them later) but I like keeping doors open.  Several of my films can easily have a handful of sequels if I felt like it.

IHF: You were commissioned to co-write and directed Captain Z. How was that as an experience rather than creating it from scratch, and is it something you would like to continue to do in the future?

Steve: It was very interesting.  I was given a plot idea from someone else and worked on an outline with someone else.  I was given mostly free-reign writing the script (and 90% of what I wrote is on the screen) but he was definitely still the boss.  And while we spoke early on and he understood that on set I had to be in charge, there was always the concept of having to make sure HE was happy.  Some times were hard, dealing with the overhead or having to take time to explain things that Scott and I needed no discussion over.

But in general I would absolutely do it again.  It was a great opportunity and not only was it a paying gig, it was a full budget with a full paid crew and cast which makes everything easier and just higher quality.  I hope Captain Z does well enough to warrant a sequel and maybe have other guys say “Hey maybe Steve can make me money.”

IHF: I realize this is sort of an unfair question, but where do you see your career going? Say 5 years down the road? 10?

Steve: Either I’ll get lucky, meet the right person, and be able to land a more stable job in the film industry.  Maybe Captain Z will do well and Zoltan Zilai [producer of the film, who also played Captain Z – IHF] will want to keep producing, maybe between him, Dustin and me, we can have a mini-studio.  Or maybe I’ll just keep being a schmuck, self-producing dumb movies that barely sell and getting a decent paying gig time to time.

For more information on how to get Steve Rudzinski’s films, check out the official Website for Steve’s production company, Silver Spotlight Films.