Drew Rosas: Financing a Dream
by Judge Paul Pritchard
16 August 2011
Having impressed with his debut feature, Blood Junkie, writer/director/producer Drew Rosas is currently preparing his next movie, the baseball themed horror Billy Club. Despite a heavy workload, Drew was kind enough to take some time out to discuss his latest project; the realities of getting an independent film financed; and some of his influences.
Q: With Blood Junkie you delivered an affectionate, but no less effective homage to the American horror movies of the '80s. What films from that period really started your passion for horror, and which directors were most influential on your own development as a filmmaker?
My absolute favorite films/filmmakers are The Evil Dead movies (Sam Raimi), Halloween and The Thing (John Carpenter), Bad Taste and Dead Alive (Peter Jackson) and The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven). The late '70s and 1980s was great era for independent filmmaking. A time when a few visionary filmmakers created a terrifying and hilarious genre of films that captured the imaginations of moviegoers around the world and carved out their own little slice of Hollywood. The films that came out of this era are more about creating an original story than the shock value horror cinema of today. Blood Junkie is an homage to the forgotten low budget films of this time period. I wanted it to feel like something you would pull out of a used DVD bin in a grocery store and have no idea it was made in 2010.
Q: Was the decision to set Blood Junkie in the eighties a direct reaction to the current trend of remaking popular franchises from that period, like Friday the 13th?
Blood Junkie was partially a retaliation against uber-stylized horror filmmaking and the unadulterated rebooting and mutilation of the classic 80s franchises, but it was also a stylistic choice based on the materials and film assets I had at my disposal. Instead of shooting for some kind of contemporary shock value gore-fest, I wanted my film to be fun, campy, comedic and scary all at once. I didn't want to approach the genre too overly serious. That is what I love about films like Evil Dead and Bad Taste. They are scary and hilarious at the same time. But most of all the filmmakers look like they had an insane amount of fun making them. I decided to put myself in a situation where the shortcomings of using non-actors, narrative holes and all around micro-budget filmmaking would enhance the style rather than hurt the film. I put myself in the same situation as a first time horror filmmaker in the 80s and this gave me a very similar end result.
Q: You mention John Carpenter as one of your favorite filmmakers, and of course a lot of his work is justly revered for its soundtrack (I'm thinking Halloween/Big Trouble in Little China especially). Blood Junkie certainly had a Carpenter-esque score. How did you go about creating that, as it definitely played its part in getting the '80s vibe across?
I actually personally produced about 50% of the music in Blood Junkie, with the remaining 50% being produced by a handful of close friends under my direction. Mike Johnson, the actor that played Teddy Bender in the film, gave me a vintage Korg polysynth keyboard circa 1984 and that pretty much made the soundtrack what it is. I would cut scenes until I had a rough edit then play them on loop and start messing around with the Korg. I recorded everything at my home studio using a computer with multi-track software. I have always admired Carpenter for his work as both a filmmaker and a composer.
Q: Another filmmaker you mention is Peter Jackson. It's always a source of pleasure, for me personally, to show people only familiar with his latter works (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or King Kong), his early movies, Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead), and even The Frighteners. They're just insane, raw, but wholly entertaining movies. Do you think the horror genre as a whole has suffered from people like Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi leaving it behind to pursue big budget blockbusters, or do you feel it's now up to people like you to pick up where they left off?
The horror industry may have suffered in some sense but we can't blame filmmakers for wanting to graduate on to bigger and bigger projects. I definitely think it is up to a new generation of filmmakers to reinvent this genre. What we really need is a more concise movement of horror films much like the drive-in theater films of the '80s. Everything feels more and more disjointed in the film world today. It has become every film for itself and I would like to see some more crossover from indie filmmakers supporting and helping each other. I also think it is important to note Raimi's Drag Me to Hell as an excellent revisiting of his roots in the horror genre. I'm still waiting for Jackson to revisit the genre. I think he'll make his triumphant return with a horror film in the next decade or so.
Q: You showed a good deal of restraint with Blood Junkie, in that the film takes its time before the blood starts to spill and actually allows us to get to know the characters better (and have some fun at their expense). Was it always your intent to gradually introduce the horror elements to the story, and do you think it important to have characters that are more than just victims in waiting?
The horror elements of this film were really based around the abandoned building they discover. So I wanted to have that discovery really drive the flowing of blood in the film. I originally was making Blood Junkie as a longer short film 30-40 minutes, but as we continued shooting I realized we had something awesome going here and decided to stretch it into a feature. Because of the structure of the horror scenes, the only real place to add material was in the first and second acts. So this pushed the blood to the end and created a lot more character development in the beginning. I let my actors do a lot of improvising on set and it really made a drastic transformation from a horror film with elements of comedy to a comedy film disguised inside of the horror genre.
Q: With your latest project, Billy Club, you're promising to bring a "terrifying new vision to independent horror cinema." Without giving too much away, what should horror fans be looking forward to when the film is released?
Billy Club is going to kick some serious ass! The whole movie is wrapped up inside of a baseball theme. There is a killer that uses modified baseball equipment as weapons, wears a super creepy vintage umpire mask. We have a great plot wrapped inside of a mystery, hilarious and endearing characters as well as tons of campy horror goodness to go around-all this while amping up the kills, scares, and horror, to a new level well beyond Blood Junkie.
Q: Blood Junkie seemed to find a good blend of comedy and horror, is that same formula something you intend to follow with Billy Club?
Yes definitely. Although we are moving from 80s throwback to a '90s horror film set in the peak of the Midwestern grunge scene. I haven't seen many '90s horror films come out yet so we are trying to jump-start the sub-genre. That said, Billy Club is much more of a horror film with great moments of comedy coming from the characters rather than the throwback genre itself. It is undoubtedly an exciting new step for me as a filmmaker. I'm looking to make something bigger and better this time around.
Q: You're working with Nick Sommer again on Billy Club. Is this likely to be an ongoing working relationship, and, with the two of you being directors, has there been a great deal of collaboration between you over the development of Billy Club?
Yes Nick and I are great friends and we work really well together. I brought him on Blood Junkie as an actor and he really stepped up and became my First AD throughout the production. This time we are co-directing and writing together. He will be acting in Billy Club as well, with a sort of reincarnation of the Craig Wilson character from Blood Junkie. I expect to continue this collaboration with many future projects.
Q: Let's talk about funding an independent horror movie. It's well documented how guys like Sam Raimi got The Evil Dead financed back in the day, but just how does someone go about getting a movie like Billy Club off the ground nowadays; has the internet made things easier in terms of getting your name out there?
Well it has changed a ton and is still constantly evolving. The problem nowadays it that independent filmmaking is making little to no money. These are passion projects for us and it really is the horror community and fan base that keeps film projects like Billy Club alive. We have secured a $15,000 investment from an Executive Producer and are currently raising an additional $15,000 through kickstarter.com. However, if we don't hit our kickstarter goal, we get nothing. And our EP's investment is dependent on raising the additional $15,000. In other words, if we meet our fundraising goal on kickstarter, we get $30,000 to make a kick ass movie, but if we don't hit our kickstarter goal we get nothing, and sadly, there will be no Billy Club. That said, we are really pushing for fans and supporters to get involved and make a pledge for Billy Club. There are tons really great gifts and collectors items at each pledge level.
Q: The Billy Club page on the Kickstarer website has a great (and very funny) pitch for potential investors in the movie that ends with a small reveal of the killer from your new movie. How did that particular idea evolve, and can you tell us about the incentives investors can look forward to?
That was all Nick Sommer's idea. We wanted to do a funny, informative and scary pitch all at the same time. Nick came up with the one shot idea and coordinated everything to happen in this 3 min video. It came together really nicely and a bunch of Milwaukee people helped out-just the first step in the larger collaboration that will expand with Billy Club. We have some seriously cool incentives at every pledge level. For $50 you get a DVD copy of both Blood Junkie and Billy Club, a special thanks on our website and a limited edition collectors postcard. We even have Associate Producer credits starting at $1000 and for $3000 you get a producer credit in the opening titles, we will fly to you (anywhere in the US lower 48) and customize your very own kill scene that will appear in the final film on the big screen. We also have tons of other gifts at each level in between.
Q: It must be desperately frustrating having to wait for funding to come in, not knowing for certain whether it will or not. How does that uncertainly affect your creativity? Are you constantly coming up with (cheaper?) new projects, or do you just get on with tweaking the script, and any other pre-production work you can?
At this point we are going full speed ahead assuming all our funds will make themselves available. I would like nothing more than to know my budget is locked and waiting for me so I could focus on preparing and creating this film. We are very determined to make this happen and we are proceeding full speed ahead until it comes to a screeching halt if the funding falls through. In my experience, filmmaking is a lifestyle not a vocation. I'm working on this project in one form or another from the minute I wake up until I close my eyes at night, and all for no money. I'm wearing so many hats right now the pressure is insane! I have to write and rewrite while location scouting, casting, crewing up and storyboarding the entire screenplay. Holy shit! I should really get back to work.
Q: Following on from that, do you feel another element making independent filmmaking harder is the reluctance of distributors to secure a theatrical release for these movies? Back in the '70s/'80s you had movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and The Hills Have Eyes getting theatrical releases all over the world, but it's hard to see that happening now. It seems that, increasingly, horror is becoming a straight-to-video genre, and regardless how good your marketing campaign, you're relying on that word of mouth from the hardcore.
This is a sad change in the film world that reaches well beyond the horror genre and effects pretty much all indie films and many studio films alike. People don't go to the movies like they used to. Everyone will see a handful of huge mega-blockbusters but there are thousands of million dollar foreign and independent films that get very limited release in specialty theaters. And then there are the micro-budget films or movies sent straight to DVD. Even film festivals are getting incredibly hard to get into. I would love to start a drive-in theater in LA that plays quadruple features of lost horror films that would otherwise be sent straight to DVD. In reality though, I see everything shifting away from DVD to online streaming. This is a new chapter in film distribution that has not entirely been written yet. I'm interested to see where we end up, but also very nostalgic for the good old days when people saw films on the big screen as an event and popcorn went flying at every kill scene.
Q: Where do you stand on the state of the horror genre in general, and where do you see your films fitting in?
I feel like the horror genre is one of the final venues for independent filmmakers to really tell a great story and get it out to the world. This is almost entirely to the credit of an overwhelmingly supportive fan base. Anyone that has experienced Comic-Con or a similar convention or film festival understands that horror/ sci-fi/ fantasy fans are truly dedicated to these genres. They are the last beacon of powerful word of mouth promotion. If they like your film, they will promote the shit out of it just for the true love of the project. They are also collectors and would rather own a limited edition hard copy of the film than just rip or stream it off the Internet. You never have this type of dedicated fan base supporting dramas or romantic comedies.
Q: Do you see yourself staying in the horror genre in the future, or do you have plans to movie into sci-fi, comedy, etc?
I love the genre, and I hope to continue making horror films for the rest of my life. But I'm also interested in a number of other projects in various genres. My next project following Billy Club is a psychedelic 70s sci-fi throwback comedy with some elements of horror and action. I'm still writing and developing this project, but I would like to shoot it this winter in California. I have also co-written another straight-up comedy film with Nick Sommer called Wedlocked N' Loaded. This is an indie comedy about small town wedding videographers. Right now the horror genre make the most sense with the budgets I've been working with. I would like to expand my genre palette when my budget start to grow a little.
Q: Drew, thank you for taking the time to talk with us, and all the best with Billy Club.
Thanks a ton for the interview and supporting independent filmmakers worldwide!
-- Drew Rosas