It was an absolute pleasure talking with P.J Starks about his previous and future independent horror projects. He clearly has a true passion for the genre and also great taste in horror movies! Not to mention the fact that he was 'subjected' to horrifying movies at an early age as was I.... so major points! Please read on for a great interview with the man himself and keep your eyes open and ears to the ground for more news on his upcoming work!
Hacked in the Head: Hi PJ! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I have been interested in seeing your indie horror film 'Hallows Eve - Slaughter on 2nd Street' for some time now. I think it looks great and as indicated by some other reviewers, bears similarities to a Scooby Doo episode albeit with some much needed grue and gore! Could you tell me about the movie and how it all came about?
P.J. Starks: HALLOWS EVE is a lot of things. It's a splatter film. It's a mystery with a body count. It's a supernatural thriller and yes, it's a more adult version of a favorite childhood cartoon of mine. As a matter of fact I watched the first three seasons of the original cartoon and took notes to make sure all the elements and nuances would be near perfect. The whole project came about in 2007 when I got tired of being known for a project that I wrote/directed in 2005. I started feeling stale, that I needed to do something current. I paired up with a friend and we pulled all the resources and connections we could to pull off HE. It was a perfect storm of opportunities and elements that ultimately fell into place. After shooting for 5 days a week for 2 months in the summer of 2008 we had a film that was ready to premiere on Halloween night of that same year. It was a frustrating, exhilerating, and surreal ride. I'm very proud of the film and greatful to the cast and crew for all the hard work, passion and sweat they put into the production.
HitH: I believe at some point there was a self distributed run of Hallows Eve DVDs - is this something you might plan to put out again or are you possibly seeking a distributor to get the movie out there?
P.J: The film released onto dvd Halloween weekend of '09. We had a huge DVD release party at our local FYE where 5 bands from the original soundtrack played live sets. There were cast interviews and giveaways, it was an absolute blast. The film was self distributed and sold at FYE here in Owensboro through a deal we worked out with them. There was only a limited amount of copies replicated. I'm down to my last box of 30. Once they go, they're gone forever. That was in no way a shameless ploy to get rid of my remaining copies by the way. We never sough distribution for the film, we received offers though. There was even a company out of Germany that was interested in the film. Nevertheless, it was never a deal that we felt would work out in our favor so we passed. There are no current plans of a dvd re-release, however, I do have ideas for two sequels and the inevitable big budget remake. All pipe dreams I'm sure.
HitH: That sounds great - lets hope those ideas get realised! As well as Directing and Co Writing Hallows Eve you also recently produced Three Tears On Bloodstained Flesh - could you tell us a bit more about the movie? I'm really looking forward to seeing it due to its reported Argento influences.
P.J: I was one of several Producers on the project. Most of my duties fell to the pre and post production phases. However I was on a set a couple of times and I can tell you that it's going to be a badass ride. Jakob Bilinski (SHADE OF GREY, OBSOLESENCE) is a really good friend of mine and a fantastic filmmaker. I have no doubt that the film will melt peoples faces with "awesomesauce". That's Jake's word! The teaser trailer recently dropped and looks great. It's gotten tons of hits and some really good feedback. He's got a good visual sense about making movies and knows how to tell a story. I haven't seen the finished film, but I did read the script. Genre fans, especially those of giallo's, are going to be in for a damn bloody treat.
HitH: Sounds fantastic, I will be keeping my ear to the ground for that one! So your new movie which is in the works My Horror Project - great name by the way - looks set to put a new spin on the cinema verite type of film. Can you tell me a bit more about the movie and your future plans for it?
P.J: Thanks so much, I've become very fond of it myself. Right now I'm still in the pre-production phase and getting all the kinks worked out. The film is a joint venture between my production company Verite Cinema and Jake's company Cinephreak Pictures. It's also the first film I've ever co-written with someone, so that makes it new territory for me. The film takes the typically haunted house mythos and turns it inside out. I wanted to make a film that was very self aware about the type of film and genre that it is. I decided to use the supernatural sub-genre, it just seemed ripe for the picking. Ghost movies have recently become like zombie films, everyone including their grandmother is trying to make out. So I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon, but instead of going the route of a bunch of ghost hunters in a house. I decided to make it a reality themed project where a very skeptical indie filmmaker wants to show how ghosts are crap and on the other side of the fence his Producers are hoping to cash in on the next Paranormal Activity-esque franchise. I wanted to make something that was satirical, scary and inf your face. I knew that the best man for the job would be Jake, so I pitched him the concept and he really dug it. We hashed a bunch of details and two weeks later had a final draft for MY HORROR PROJECT. As you can imagine though most scripts are never entirely complete. I'm still making some changes here and there and a few alterations. Once the film is completed I plan to submit to every horror convention and festival I can. The more awareness you create for a project the better it does.
HitH: I cant wait to see it and I hope all goes great in production. On that note, are you able to talk about any particular challenges you may have faced while making your movies? I know it can be all kinds of tough out there in the independent film industry.
P.J: Lack of funding, resources and support are the most frustrating obstacles. But it wouldn't truly be indie filmmaking without at least one of those staring you down. I suppose that I've been luckier than most in my immediate area by getting opportunities to work with Hollywood alum and get as far as I have within the independent arena. I know how tough it can be and that's why I've worked so hard to not only create awareness in my community about what we're doing, but do my damnedest to support other local/regional filmmakers when I can. That's the main reason I created a local program in conjunction with an area college called The Indie Film Series and co-created a local film festival, which is now going into year two. I'm hoping that the more people are exposed to our world, it gives them a chance open their minds to what I and so many others are trying to accomplish. I want Owensboro to be as progressive as it can be, which has proven to be a constant uphill battle in some ways and opened up doors to opporunities in others.
HitH: How about your casting methods. How do you usually go about this? Any memorable performances you want to share from along the way?
P.J: With HALLOWS EVE I enlisted the help of Todd Reynolds, a local actor and man about town. He also played the role of Buck Masters in the film. Todd was an amazing resource into the types of talent that my hometown has to offer. Utilizing his contacts we were able to effectively cast the film over the course of a 4 day open audition. With my short film A MIND BESIDE ITSELF I received help from Lori Rosas who runs a talent agency out of Evansville, IN. Lori helped set up auditions for the female lead, ultimately though I convinced her to audition for me and she knocked it outta the park. Lori went on to play the female lead in AMBI and did a great job, she's now a friend as well as a wealth of connections to other artists in the Evansville area. Most memorable actors I'd have to say was Eric Sax from A MIND BESIDE ITSELF. I was holding auditions for a shelved project called HOLY SPIRITS and Eric showed up for some other meeting. He had no clue what we were doing. He walked in with this Jared Leto hair style and tight v-neck t-shirt. He looked lost almost. I started talking to him and he didn't even know what we were doing or what was happening. I gave him the sides he needed to audition and remember thinking, "not only does this guy not look the part, but he's totally clueless. His audition will be a disaster." I brought him in about ten minutes later just to get him in and out so we could move on. Eric walked in without the script and I asked him where it was. He said that he didn't need it and internally I laughed. This was going to be interesting. I was right and I was wrong. Eric blew me the fuck away with his audition. He had memorized two pages of dialogue in less than twenty minutes. I was mesmerized and couldn't get the smile off my face. While we never got to making the film, I jumped at the chance to work with him when AMBI came around. I didn't even make him audition. I just cast him in the role and prayed that he said yes. Because I call him my Ryan Reynolds everyone says that I've got a non-sexual man crush on him, but I don't see it. Eric looks great on screen and he's a fantastic talent. I felt very lucky that he stumbled into my audition, A MIND BESIDE ITSELF was a far superior film because of his involvement.
MY HORROR PROJECT was cast much differently. I wanted to do something locally that would really excite the actors. Something that they don't ever get a chance to do, play themselves. In tow with the reality element, most all the actors in the film are not taking on the roles of characters. They get to be thrust into different and incredible situations and now ask themselves,"what would I do in thie scenario? How would I react to a malevolent spirit?" I think that opens up a whole new arena for them and so far the actors have all loved the script. I've been really humbled by their reactions and their enthusiasm makes me VERY excited about this project.
HitH: Thats fantastic, I love that idea and should bring a more interesting dimension to the movie.
Are you a horror fan in general P.J? Im guessing yes but you never know! What are some of your all time favourites and why?
P.J: Yeah, I'm a pretty big fan of the horror genre. I've been watching scary movies since I can remember. My grandfather, who would ultimately set me on the path of loving filmmaking, took me to the theater to see JASON TAKES MANHATTAN. I was seven. I know that sounds terrible, but it's just one of many important memories I have about horror. I can remember being about ten and sitting on the floor watching DAWN OF THE DEAD while eating spaghetti. I was enthralled and mortified at the same time. A lot of people don't give the genre the respect it deserves, it's the one of the few times in a film where you can laugh, be scared, laugh again, get sad and then be scared again. I just love it. Some of my favorite horror films are FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, THE PROWLER, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13th. The list goes on and on. I'm a big fan of 80's slashers and zombie films in particular. I know it's not really horror but I have to give a shout out to GHOSTBUSTERS, it's the film that started my love for the horror genre.
HitH: Haha, no thats brilliant - I remember my Dad letting me watch A Nightmare on Elm Street and Witch Story on the same weekend when I was about 7....my Mum went nuts when she found out!! Some awesome horror movies there in your list of favourites.
Finally is there anything further you want to share with fans about you work both previous and upcoming?
P.J: My first real serious effort was HALLOWS EVE. I learned a lot from that production. We got a lot of great reviews and a few bad ones. It's funny how the bad ones stick with you. They were the ones that pushed me to make my next project, a psychological drama called A MIND BESIDE ITSELF. I set out to prove myself and feel pretty successful about it as it won some awards. Now I'm back where I belong, deep into the blood and grue. I think the new film has some great characters and some great moments. It has everything a genre fan loves. Jake and I tried to make sure it ran the gamat. I recently told an interviewer that I just wanted to make a movie where some says a cuss word before they die and I meant it. MY HORROR PROJECT may not break any new ground, but I hope it does for the supernatural sub-genre what SCREAM did for slashers; bring a fresh perspective. Hopefully audiences will agree.
HitH: I hope so too! Thanks again for a great inteview and I look forward to hearing more about My Horror Project soon!