Friday, December 4, 2015

Q&A With Genre Director James Balsamo

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

I am proud to say that I have now reviewed all of the films of James Balsamo that he has directed and released to date: Hack Job (2011), I Spill Your Guts (2012), Cool as Hell (2013), Catch of the Day (2014), and Bite School (2015). He has two more scheduled for next year, 60 Seconds to Die and Killer Waves. This does not include the multiple ones he appeared as an actor (though I did write up 2012’s Bloody Christmas and his sneeze-and-you-miss-it cameo in 2013’s Blood Slaughter Massacre). These can all be seen by searching this blog.

Balsamo’s specialty for most of his films is the goofy self-centered fish out of water, usually played by himself. Much of it could seem just plain silly, but if the viewer actually pays attention, there is a lot of sharp dialog and action, with lots of gore and nudity. They are definitely a fun ride.

Another of his forte is having guest cameos. As Balsamo travels around going to genre conventions, his up spirit, the joy of what he’s doing, and his general personality lends itself to other actors and musicians being willing to record a visual bit that can be included in his films, often of which is humorously belittling Balsamo either verbally or physically. Some of them obviously are filmed in the street or hotel lobby right at the convention site, which will somehow be included in his latest project. That actually says a lot about the joy of being a genre writer, director and actor; he’s not just in charge, he’s also a fan. I’ve seen some of the selfie’s he’s done with various artists and his ecstatic expression is identifiable as truth, which usually says, “Holy fuck, I can’t believe I’m standing next to so-and-so!”   

Balsamo is one of the new breed of guerilla filmmakers who grab a camera (or more than one) to a location and shoot away, especially in Long Island locales, but as his releases are getting increasingly popular, and he attends more and more conventions (make sure you go by and say hi at his table…and pick up a film or tee-shirt or two), his loci for taping is ever expanding.

Not only does Balsamo make films, he also releases them under his own brand, Acid Bath Productions, which has one of my favorite logo animations used at the beginning of all his releases and trailers. But I’ve rambled on enough. Let’s meet the man behind the cannoli:
You’ve been an actor longer than a director. What was the moment that made you want to make films as well as act?
James: I started out at a young age to aspire to star in horror films. But since I didn’t know anybody who made horror films, I decided to go to film school and make my own damn movie. Five feature films later, now I get to hack and slash on screen and off camera (when the craft service table runs out of doughnuts).

What drives you to make films?
James: While filming topless women and partying with some of the rock stars and celebrities in my films are a great perk, what really drives me to make them is my love for cinema. But let’s be real: mainly it’s for the boobs and partying at this point in my career.

You’ve made five three comedies (Killer Waves is in production) and one drama. Why the change with the tense I Spill Your Guts?
James: After a not so enthusiastic response after my first film, Hack Job, I set out to show the world that I had more ideas than just fart jokes and naked women and made a captivated military thriller – I Spill Your Guts. After the film’s release, critics of Hack Job quickly did a 360 and praised the film for its great dramatic overtones. But like I said, a lot of people are just like me: we really like fart jokes and boobs so that’s what I went back to. After three horror-comedies, I’ve decided to go back to a thriller with Killer Waves, which promises to be the most brutal film I’ve made.

You tend to have some very attractive women who both are willing to be naked and can actually act in your films. Why are you so lucky?
James: Our casting process is really complex. A lot of work goes into the entire process and it involves a series of auditions and usually a lot of debate. I’ve always had a charm with the ladies but of course on an Acid Bath Productions set, all of our actors and actresses are treated with the utmost respect when doing nude scenes.

Tell us an anecdote about working with the late Dave Brockie, the lead singer of Gwar (d. 2014).
James: Dave Brockie was an amazing guy to have worked with. He will truly be missed. Dave came to set excited about the project and before he got into his Oderus [Urungus] costume, Dave played a role out-of-costume as a diner owner. We handed Dave his wardrobe, which was brand new, and he said he really wanted it to look authentic. We were filming in a club that had a kitchen and Dave put his hand under the grease trap and was wiping the dirt and grime all over himself and his clothes. He was a true method actor.

How do you get so many major named stars of both cinema and music to appear in your films?
James: A little bit of chloroform goes a long way. Acid Bath Productions is a growing name in the industry so we’re seeing a lot of these rock stars and celebrities are excited to work with us and be in an Acid Bath film. If that doesn’t work, we usually kidnap a loved one and hold them for ransom until they do a cameo.

Debbie Rochon is one of my faves. What is it like to work with her?
James: I’ve known Debbie for almost a decade now and not only is she always stunning to look at, but she has such an amazing sense of humor and such a great presence to her. The last time I filmed with Debbie she was playing a psychic and made an actress lick a dried goat penis (read: beef jerky). If you haven’t seen the scene, its hilarious goodness is in Catch of the Day.

Do you usually shoot with one camera, or do you occasionally shoot with more?
James: Catch of the Day was the only film shot primarily with two cameras. Obviously there are always a bunch of cameras shooting different angles, but we try to stick with one primary camera. Though you’d be surprised how handy the extra footage from the other cameras can be!

According to IMDB, your last film, Bite School, cost $60,000. Really?
James: No, it actually cost more than that. Blowing up cars and driving through walls seems to drive up the production bill. Don’t remind me – or my bank account.

Have you ever had to deal with a prima donna actor/actress? How do you handle that situation?
James: Like I said, a lot of work goes into the casting process and we’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to deal with such an incident, but when the time comes we do keep a machete on set.

You’re very loyal to Long Island, and your Italian heritage, yet you’re not afraid to make fun of both, as well as other races. How does your nonni feel about that?
James: She’s 89 and kicking. She loves it, but she does occasionally need to beat me with an Italian bread to keep me in line, but I’ll always be her little meatball.

The characters you play tend to be drug- and alcohol fueled airheads with some position of power. How close is that to reality?
James: I know the first step is admitting you have a problem, so let’s move past that and say I am far from the characters. But drugs aren’t really a problem as long as you can afford them, am I right?

You also act in other people’s films. Do you ever get the urge to grab the camera and show them how it’s done?
James: I always restrain my urge to start directing other people’s projects if they’ve hired me as talent. I respectfully hold that position, unless of course they ask for my opinion and then I’m more than happy to show them or just take over the show.

Frank Mullen is another one of my favorites who appear in your films. His characters definitely have a similarity to one another. How parallel are they to him? I always thought he would be a great addition to “Blue Bloods” or “SVU.” Discuss.
James:  Yes, Frank embodies that character. I don’t usually even have to give him a script, I just let him yell at people in real life and happen to be there with a camera to capture it. In all seriousness, Frank is a great actor and we’re happy to have him as part of the Acid Bath family. I’m not the biggest “Blue Bloods” fan, but Frank is truly a brilliant actor and I’m happy to call him a friend. I’m sure he’d ace any role he was cast for. If you haven’t seen him perform in Suffocation [Frank’s band - RG], you’re definitely missing something special.

Is there anyone in particular you want to have in your films that you haven’t been able to get yet, and why?
James: We have a couple of people in the works, so I don’t want to give away too many secrets just yet. And that would tip them off that the creepy noises they hear in their house at night is me.

Any other amusing story you want to share?
James: After filming with ECW legend Balls Mahoney [Jonathan Rechner – RG], he heard that I was a varsity wrestler back in high school and challenged me to a wrestling match. Mind you, the night before, Balls Mahoney wrestled and broke his arm when fans threw all their chairs in the ring. So literally part of his bone looked like it was about to pop out of his arm and so I’m pleading with him that I don’t want to wrestle him because he clearly has a broken arm but he persists. Being a man of honor I couldn’t just lie down and let him pin me, so I wrestled a one-armed Balls Mahoney and pinned him not once, but twice. Fair match. (Have you ever seen that guy swing a chair?)



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