As a reviewer for Killer Reviews, I have seen it all. Not literally “it all”, but the entire spectrum of quality when it comes to horror. And boy is there a spectrum! On one end, you have classics that transcend the genre, such as The Silence of the Lambs, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. And then you have the other… films so bad you literally would rather be dead than watch them. (Such films would include Nine Lives with Paris Hilton and Felix Diaz’s Hell’s Threshold.)
The spectrum is most unpredictable when it comes to independent horror. You might get sent a DVD from an enthusiastic film major, pop it in, sit back with a 6 pack of Labatt Blue… and then suffer the reality of someone who cannot understand big dreams and small budgets do not always mix, especially when talent does not fill the gap. But I am not here to write about those films today.
When I think of the future of good independent film, two names instantly come to mind: Paul Busetti and Ian Albetski of Ten Sundays Productions. I have seen pretty much everything these guys have touched, and have never been disappointed. Sometimes I am impressed or even stunned. If you want to turn $10 into a $20 film, you want Ten Sundays on the job. The level of talent that oozes from them is unbelievable. Don’t believe me? Watch Cannibal Cheerleader Camp and you will see one of the best short films out there today.
Paul and Ian were kind enough to chat with me in mid-March 2011 about their past projects, their influences, and their most ambitious project yet: “Dysphonia”. If you have not heard of Ten Sundays yet, now is the time. They are about to hit the big time.
GS: Ian, you were born in Washington, DC. People actually live there?
IA: I have friends who live there. I don’t really see the appeal though. I like visiting occasionally. Especially since I’m only 15 miles away in Alexandria, Virginia. But living there would drive me absolutely bonkers: the traffic, the over-abundance of one-way roads, the tourists… my parents didn’t even live there when I was born. They drove into the city to give birth to me. Same with my older brother two years before that. I still don’t know why.
GS: Paul, Ian wasn’t with you for “Antidote Seven”. When did you become a film-making duo?
PB: We’ve been friends for about 14 years and have been making films together since 2004. Ian and I actually worked on a couple of short films before I wrote “Antidote Seven”. He wasn’t able to be there when “Antidote” was a made in 2005 and his presence was missed. “Antidote” was co-produced by Chris Kiros, who was a poker buddy I ended up working with again on “Zombthology” years later.
GS: What does Ten Sundays mean? Why not Ten Thursdays?
PB: I was finishing post-production on our first film “The Clockmaker” in 2004, and I needed a production company name to put in the opening titles.
IA: It was a short about a killer who realizes he wants to be caught when no one suspects him. We used non-actors and barely knew what we were doing. No one was a professional, and we all had day-jobs during the week.
PB: The movie took ten days to film and because of people’s schedules, we were only able to shoot on Sundays. I thought it had a nice ring to it, so it just stuck.
GS: Cannibal Cheerleader Camp was amazing, and had me clamoring for more. Was it meant to be a short film, or were there hopes that it could launch a longer picture?
PB: Thank you for the compliment. We’ve been fortunate that it connected with reviewers who are fans of the genre, but there were never plans for a feature length version. However, I fell in love with the characters and it was a shame to kill them off so quickly.
IA: Paul put it best when he said, “I wanted this film to be the scenes you fast forward to when you’ve got a VHS copy of ‘Slumber Party Massacre’ and your mom is going to be home soon.” It was always meant to be a short; stripped down to the parts of an 80’s horror that were the most satisfying: the kills, the suspense, and the lesbian shower scenes.
PB: One of the criticisms I heard is that the film was trying to do too much in too short a running time. What I learned was that the formula and pacing of a slasher film is really disrupted when you try to squeeze it into a running time of only 18 minutes. Upon viewing it now, the climax especially comes way too quickly, especially because it’s a bit of a slow burn up until that point. It’s like “Oh I guess we’re at the end now.” The short films I’ve made have run between 14 and 38 minutes. Which is really a no man’s land. Festivals want to program shorts that are less than 10 minutes long and most distributors are only interested in features. I was fortunate to get a distribution deal through New Blood Entertainment and the film should be released in the Spring. I think if I ever wanted to make a few bucks, I would go back the cabin and shoot a feature length “Cannibal Cheerleader Camp II”. I don’t think I would have too much trouble selling that.
GS: Who was the genius behind CCC? Be honest.
IA: Paul was, hands down.
PB: If you’re a fan, I’ll take the credit and if not, I’ll take the blame.
IA: He wrote it, cast it, shot it, directed it, and edited it. I secured the location and raised the cash.
PB: I had wanted to do a slasher flick and thought it would be a great chance to work with some of my favorite actresses. We shot over a weekend in October and the budget was $700. Ian arranged the location and handled the logistics and I couldn’t have done it without him. I also can’t say enough about the girls. We were going to put the girls up at a hotel 30 minutes away from the cabin, but they never took us up on it. We lived together, stayed up late together and had a bloody great time making the movie. Erika Lieberman’s haunting score lent the film some credibility and set the tone right from the opening credits.
IA: I still thank Paul to this day for that flick since it is where I met my lovely and talented wife: actress Bridget Devlin Burke.
GS: I laughed my ass off at “Boxing Day”. As producers, did you have much input, or were you more in charge of funding?
IA: We actually had jack to do with the funding.
PB: Here’s what a terrible fundraiser I am. We threw a fundraising party a month before production started. We got a keg, barbecued, screened some films we had done in the past, and sold DVDs. It lost money. When you’re a broke filmmaker, chances are most of your friends are broke filmmakers. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You ask them for money for your film and then a week later they ask for it back so they can make their film.
IA: We mainly kept the show on schedule, solved various problems when they arose, and made sure people knew what the hell they were doing and showed up where and when they were supposed to. Creatively, we punched-up jokes and offered alterative lines that we felt were funnier or worked better on-the-day.
PB: Francis Abbey told me the idea and sent me the script to see if it could be made for $2000. He knew that Ian and I were accustomed to working with that budget size and with only a 6 day schedule, every day had a double digit page count that had to be met. We had a lot of laughs on that set sitting behind the monitor and watching guys like Danny Gavigan and Jim Murphy do what they do best.
GS: “Abraham Lincoln:The Motion Picture”. Why Lincoln? Why not Garfield?
IA: I probably know people who have not heard of President Garfield. Lincoln is just so universally known. The hat, the ridiculous choice of beard-styling, the five-dollar-bill… all of it.
PB: The film was a satire about America and its faults and Abraham Lincoln is one of the most recognizable symbols of America. The intent was to deflate people’s perception of the 1950’s as wholesome, safe, and perfect. I suppose Eisenhower would have been more apt given the period.
IA: Also, it was the over-saturation of him that was the exact reason we chose him. It was a satire on many things. Besides the obvious post-war propaganda, misogyny, and racism, it was spoofing the over-use of zombies, ninjas, and Abraham Lincoln in modern American horror and comedy. It is still going on. I can think of four or five flicks coming out soon, just off the top of my head, that have one or more of those.
GS: Exactly. For example, there was a short film called “The Transient” that featured Abraham Lincoln as a vampire. I know of other films and comics that have him tangling with werewolves and vampires. What is it about this guy that inspires people to associate him with horror?
IA: Like Tyler Durden said about Lincoln, “big guy, big reach.” The cat just looks like he could give a beating as well as he could take it. His size and presence could make him a scary villain or the winning hero.
PB: He does bear a striking resemblance to The Tall Man in “Phantasm”.
GS: Paul, how did you end up in “Zombthology”?
PB: Chris Kiros had sent me the script to get my thoughts, so I had read it. I guess an actor had dropped out last minute so he called me a few days before shooting began and asked if I would play one of the guys at the bachelor party who gets killed by the zombie stripper. After I said yes I went back to look at the script to see which character I was playing. It turned out that my character “Rick” dies by getting his penis ripped off. The night we shot my death scene, I actually fell asleep and woke up stuck to the bed in a pool of fake blood. I got to work closely with great actors like Ryan Thomas and Gavin Peretti and Chris allowed us to ad lib a lot of our dialogue. He also let me choose my own prosthetic penis. It was a very loose, creative set and after I got “killed” I picked up the B camera to help out. On that set I met Kerry Kearns and Rebecca Jones, who I later cast as the Kims in “Cannibal”.
GS: Tiffany Shepis is a friend of the Killer Reviews crew, and I’ve seen Robert Elkins’ work before (“Backwoods”). Monique Dupree was also involved. Were the segments all shot separately, or did you get to spend time with these three?
PB: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to work with Monique or Tiffany. “Zombthology” is a horror anthology film comprised of 3 segments. I was involved with the first segment and when Robert Elkins and Elias Dancy were shooting their pieces we were making “Cannibal” out in Winchester, Virginia.
GS: Your next big project is “Dysphonia”. Tell me the basic plot.
PB: Dysphonia is a horror film about twin sisters who work at a psychiatric hospital. Their paths cross with a mute girl from their childhood and they plan to have her committed to the hospital because they blame her for the destruction of their family years ago.
IA: A lot of fucked up stuff happens. Horror fans will drool over it. But there’s a lot of depth to it too. But man, is it twisted.
PB: It’s violent, but it unfolds like a fairy tale. It’s very much inspired by Italian horror filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
GS: Fulci and Argento? Let’s step back for a moment to see the big picture — who do you guys consider your greatest cinematic influences?
IA: I’m a huge fan of all the cliched answers: P. T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Aronofsky, Soderbergh… but as far as inspiration, I’d say none there’s bigger than Vincent Gallo. Here’s a cat who writes, produces, scores, directs and stars in the few movies he’s made. ‘Buffalo 66’ and the ‘The Brown Bunny’ are amazing films, but also films that seem reasonable or manageable to make. I look at the brilliance of ‘There Will Be Blood” and I think, “Incredible, but I could never do that.” Gallo’s flicks just seem much less complicated and expensive. More recently, I’m really appreciating Noah Baumbach on the same level. Small, but extremely powerful films.
PB: A lot of the films and filmmakers that influenced “Dysphonia” are influences of everything else I try to do. Hitchcock. “Rear Window” may be the best example of how a great director controls what the audience is permitted to see and hear. “Rope” and “Lifeboat” are also fantastic templates for low budget filmmaking because they’re both single location thrillers. I think “Silence of the Lambs” is a perfect film. Cassavete’s “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” breaks my heart. Everything David Cronenberg has done (especially “The Fly”). Almost everything Polanski has done. Aronofsky. John Carpenter’s films in the ’80s. Kubrick because of his precision and ability to work in every genre. I don’t think anyone has ever used the camera more intelligently than Scorsese. Milos Forman and Terry Gilliam make the best movies about mental illness. Godard because he was the first punk rock director. De Palma and Dario Argento because their movies can be so beautifully ridiculous. As far as visual influences, Vittorio Storaro, Harris Savides, Robert Elswit, and Robert Richardson are my favorite cinematographers.
GS: Excellent names and films, guys. Okay, back to “Dysphonia”. Aside from the two sadistic teenage twins — who I hope are sexy as hell — you have a mute girl. How much is her muteness going to play into the overall level of fear?
PB: First of all, the twins are sexier than hell and they are acutely aware of how to use their sexuality to get what they want. (The mute character) Beth’s inability to speaks not only acts as homage to Abel Ferrara and Ms. 45, but also to further emphasize her pacifistic nature. Like many people, she believes that human beings are fundamentally good and that violence is something she can avoid. The “voice” she finds is her ability to defend herself when evil does enter her life.
IA: The idea of not having a voice to express the horror you are facing I think is frightening. Since she is the character that most people will probably connect with, I believe her being a mute makes it that much scarier; for the character and the audience.
PB: The script deals with the fears I was having at the time I wrote it. Fear of being forgotten, fear of losing control of your sanity, fear of having a child. The script is about evil. Where evil comes from and how urban legends begin. I want the twins to go down as classic horror antagonists and Beth to go down as the next Clarice Starling or Ripley.
GS: I know the script ran over 130 scenes… what sort of length and budget are you hoping for?
PB: It’s a feature length script. The current draft is 114 pages long and takes place over 13 years between these characters. We filmed a scene in February just to get an idea of what it would look like and I’m ecstatic with the way it turned out.
IA: There are a lot of smaller scenes too. So I wouldn’t say more than two and a half hours. Probably less.
PB: We‘ll be releasing a teaser trailer soon. Just keep checking the website for updates The budget we’re looking for is between 150 and 200K. That’s far and away the biggest budget we’ve ever worked with but this is also the best script we’ve ever tried to make.
GS: Thanks, guys! You know I’ll be eagerly awaiting its release!