We should all be thoroughly upset with Kurt Larson. Not only is he an excellent, charismatic actor who has worked with big names like Sam Mendes and Steven Spielberg, but he’s also proven himself to be an accomplished writer and director; first with his short film TOUCHING THE SKY and most recently with his feature debut SON OF GHOSTMAN. Oh, and he’s also a geek, who has proven he can go toe-to-toe with the nerdiest of us on his podcast STAY COOL, GEEK. I’ve already raved – at length – about SON OF GHOSTMAN, but that’s just the tip of Kurt’s massive iceberg of talent. Even worse, he’s a thoroughly nice, down to earth guy who speaks intelligently and passionately about horror-hosts, film-making and the realities of distributing movies on a low budget. ARGH!
Sweetback (SB): As a monster movie geek, SON OF GHOSTMAN was obviously a very personal project for you. Tell us a little bit about where the idea for the film came from, and what difficulties you ran into raising money to put the project together.
Kurt Larson (KL): To be honest, SON OF GHOSTMAN was a real last stand for me. I had become increasingly frustrated with my career progress, and suddenly started to feel the pressure of doing something I truly loved before it was too late. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly talented people who feel that same struggle, and I desperately wanted to say something about the balance of pursuing something creative vs. a more practical path. When I started to think about people who do something they love – despite quizzical looks from others – just because they have to, I remembered a story in the back of my head about horror hosts. I had always had a very loose idea of a comedic horror host-based story, and suddenly I found myself at a point in my life where everything added up to making this film.
As for the film’s budget, I paid for it all myself. I’ve basically waited tables for the last 15 years of my life and put some money here and there away. I’ve been lucky enough to get some acting work, and those checks come in handy. In the end, I essentially took my entire savings and put it into SON OF GHOSTMAN. It was a very difficult decision, but as my wonderful wife said, “we don’t have kids yet, we ‘re doing fine, what else are we going to spend it on? You have to make this film.” And she was right, I had to, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Next to marrying her, it was the best decision of my life.
SB: The film is nirvana for those with nostalgia for the heyday of horror hosts. Growing up in Illinois, I’d have to think Svengoolie was a big influence on the character of GHOSTMAN.. Do you have any memories of him, or other horror hosts, from your childhood?
KL: Svengoolie is a hero to me, and thousands of others. I adore him. I adore ALL horror hosts, the polished ones and the not so polished ones. He really bridged the gap between my brother and I. For years, I searched for him on television, just hoping to catch a glimpse of that nostalgic emotion. I’m happy to report he’s now seen nationally on ME-TV every Saturday night. In some ways, he’s the dream Denny has, as he really has become something so much more than a horror host.
The one memory that always sticks out for me is seeing Dracula for the first time, and really being transfixed by those black and white images on the screen. Bela Lugosi became my first introduction to acting, and without Svengoolie on WFLD-32, I don’t know that this path ever happens. I’m indebted.
SB: Genre fans might be a bit surprised by just how sweet and inspirational the film is. While it’ll definitely appeal to horror nuts, at its heart it’s a charming early 30s coming-of-age romantic comedy. What made you decide to approach the material from this direction?
KL: Because it’s such a ridiculous combination!
Seriously, I loved the tilted head responses I’d get from people when I pitched the film. When you write something, especially in the quirky realm, it’s hard for people to understand the tone you’re trying to accomplish. The only way to get them on-board is to show them. So for me, I wanted to show people within the film industry what I could do, the types of stories I write and hope to create. My goal is to be universally appealing, but also be unique. At its heart, SON OF GHOSTMAN is a traditional romantic comedy, it just happens to be about horror hosts. I also didn’t want to see SON OF GHOSTMAN get corrupted. What I mean by that is it seems to me that Hollywood tends to take ideas like competing horror hosts and make them bigger and dumber. All the heart, all the subtle messages, and all the relatable moments would have been tossed in favor of ridiculous jokes and ‘broad’ comedy. I didn’t want that to happen, and it was a very clear tone from the first day of production to the last. We actually didn’t use a lot of funny improv from the actors simply because it went too far. I like riding the line of what is believable and what isn’t. How can I get right to the edge of ridiculousness but bring you back to reality? Can I? I don’t know, but I like to try.
SB: You play a tremendous asshole in the film. Just a first class dickhead. Did you write the film always intending to play Rick/Count Dracool? Were you basing your performance on any other classic movie douchebags?
KL: Thank you! I knew from the beginning that if possible, I would play Count Dracool. I really wanted to be a part of the film, but knew my emotional commitment to a character would be minimal due to all the other job duties I had. And really, I knew playing a character like Count Dracool would be in my wheelhouse, and be incredibly fun at the same time. Plus, what I loved about this character is that he’s actually TWO assholes. He’s the sleazy, loud, and disgusting Count Dracool on-stage, but off-stage he’s more reserved and arrogant. It was a blast!
I used Rex Manning (EMPIRE RECORDS), Shooter McGavin (HAPPY GILMORE), and the real-life bad-ass that is Billy Mitchell (KING OF KONG) as reference. In fact, Mitchell is the guy who made me think that Rick should sell a product. That guy is awesome man, for real.
SB: I’ll admit to initially being a bit taken aback by the film’s electro/electropop soundtrack, but in retrospect it really helps bring out that John Hughes 80s vibe that permeates much of the film. What was your intention with the songs, and was it difficult piecing together music with such a specific feel on a low budget?
KL: Yes! I was totally going for an updated John Hughes-esque soundtrack, which is also how I saw the film as a whole. I wanted the songs to remind the viewer of those films, and of the balance guys like Hughes and Cameron Crowe brought to their work. Also, I didn’t want the film to ever get too heavy. If you notice, even in the alleged dramatic scenes, a joke will pull you out of it, remind you of the world these guys are living in. I have such a respect for music and the emotional pull it can have on a listener. I was trying to make a throwback movie, so we had to have a throwback soundtrack.
The first 75% of the film’s music was easy to find, as we knew some incredibly talented people like Kurt Gellersted and Adam Fauth who wrote pieces specifically for the film. The last 25% was a struggle, and it took much longer than my producing partner Gabriel Guyer or I expected. We didn’t want to ‘punt’, which was our way of saying we settled. We just kept searching, kept begging, and kept on the people who had music we wanted to use. We specifically targeted indie musicians, as I truly believe that relationship is integral to the successful growth of both artists, provided the film is of a certain quality. Luckily, they felt that way and we made it work.
SB: Finding someone who could both embody a lovable schlub and a charismatic viral-video entertainer must have been extremely difficult. What made Devin Ordoyne right for the role of Denny/Son of Ghostman?
KL: He’s so likeable. And what I see in Devin is an innate charm that comes from a very pure place, because he really is an affable guy. I fear that his success will corrupt the Louisana manners he has, and the thing that makes him a possible star- that naïve demeanor that says, “I’m not sure I belong here, but ok, I’ll give it a shot.” It’s such a comfortable place for him to live in, and tweaking that into the dorkier side of Denny was so much fun. I keep telling Devin, don’t be cool man, just be you. If he does that for a little while longer, he has a long career ahead of him. It’s like the kid in a hurry to grow up. Don’t be. Hang out in that zone a little longer, you have plenty of time to be an adult, and Devin has plenty of time to tackle gritty roles. For now though, be Paul Rudd and you’ll get your shot.
SB: So you have a really wonderful film here. It’s been getting strong reviews from a variety of film websites and magazines, and has played well to audiences across the U.S. What are some of the frustrations you’ve run into in trying to get people to see it?
KL: So much of the regular movie-going public is fearful of films they’ve never seen splashed across a billboard, and so much of the film-making world is swayed by festival appearances. Neither side is aware of the amount of exciting work being created out there, and the gluttony of projects certainly doesn’t make it any easier. We have a micro-budget film with no stars, made by two guys, with no major festival appearances (yet), and no team of agents pushing the film. It’s us against the odds.
I have to believe that despite these odds, the film will find its audience, because I know it’s out there. Look, I get it. How many micro-budget films out there don’t work? A lot. My job is to convince people that this is different, this will make them smile, this will be worth the $2.99 they spend and better yet, worth the 90 minutes of their time. Right now, it’s happening. We might have a small crew of fans, but what they lack in numbers they make up for by the love and dedication they’ve shown us. That will translate into other areas, which is the goal. I didn’t set out to make one film, I set out to make many.
SB: Where can readers check out SON OF GHOSTMAN? And what’s the best way for them to keep up on any upcoming projects from yourself?
KL: www.sonofghostman.com is where they can get the film, read the reviews, and see the trailer for themselves. Supporting indiefilm is important, and I take that emotional investment very seriously. It’s worth their time, that much I know.
I can be found at www.kurtedwardlarson.com where I update quite frequently. I also admittedly and embarrassing love twitter, and love engaging with film fans.
SB: Anything else to plug?
KL: Yes! I host a weekly podcast called Stay Cool, Geek which people really seem to dig. They can find it on itunes and most other podcast hosting sites. We talk about all manner of geeky things, but more importantly what it’s like to be 35 years old and still like kid-like things like horror films, comic books, and Star Wars. Plus, of course indiefilm. It’s really fun and not like a typical “geek” podcast. Much like the film, we try to find the balance of humor and emotion.
People can find that again at my website, and that is where I’ll be talking/posting new projects and work.
I’m grateful for the support, and can only tell you that I’m really excited for what lies ahead. We have some really fun stuff we’re working on… and the adventures of Son of Ghostman and Count Dracool might not be done just yet…
SB: You’ve obviously had a lot of experience on a variety of film sets, but this is your first full-length project. What advice would you have for young or inexperienced directors looking to tackle their first feature?
KL: I actually just did one of those sighs, the ones where there’s only so much you can say in an article so you just exhale to yourself in an overly dramatic fashion as if to say… “heavy man, heavy.” Ha! From a technical standpoint, use your strengths, and make sure you know what those are. You’ll most likely not be fantastic at every facet of the project, so lean on what you specifically are good at. Think of it like a sport, are you an offensive or defensive player? I knew my technical skills (DP and editing, etc) were adequate but not great. Therefore, I focused on story and acting, which is where I personally feel most comfortable working. Do that and trust others to help assist you in the areas you may suffer from.
In a larger sense, I guess I would say you really need to measure yourself and what you want to do and why you want to do it. It’s hard, but you need to look at yourself and find out if you want to do this because of a pose or if it’s because you have to. There are incredible challenges and real consequences of doing it, and they’re not all good. You’ll go crazy, you’ll be tested, and you’ll possibly lose money and friends. You need to know that and lose any thoughts of grandeur you have. This is hard, hard work and one film last for years. If you can live with that, you just have to go for it. More importantly, if you can’t live without telling your story, then there is no other choice.
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