I am a junkie for bikesploitation.
In the sick and twisted world of grindhouse cinema, the biker genre is always a guaranteed good time. It just doesn’t get any better than stories stuffed with anti-heroes, hot chicks and loud bikes. Enter my man James Bickert, director of DEAR GOD NO!, a perfect piece of exploitation that is tough as nails and cool as hell. After taking a ten year break between films, Bickert decided the best way to return was to wake the neighbors by revving the engine and slapping some ass up and down the street. You Bastards are going to dig this good shit, trust me. Bickert hung out with us and dropped some verbiage on his flick. He’s also promised us that he’s already kicking ideas around for his next flick… good, because we just added him to our Watch List of directors we think are going to be punching eyeballs with a fistful of cool. Grab your cut and lets roll…
What was the first film that changed your life and made you want to be a filmmaker?
The original KING KONG. When I was very young my mom took me to a 35mm screening at Augusta College. It floored me. I didn’t have it all figured out but knew that the world of Skull Island was the place to end up.
Tell us about how started to dig films growing up.
My parents were both in graduate school and teaching during the day so they didn’t see much of each other. Their only form of babysitting was to head to the drive-in and throw me in the front seat so they could make out in the back seat. I was pretty young but I do remember some Disney films, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, A.I.P. flicks, the snack bar ads and countdowns to showtime. Around 3rd grade I started scouring TV guide for any late night movie that might have been in Famous Monsters. Anything that sounded interesting had me sneaking into the living room when everyone was asleep.
When HBO first appeared on cable it was on for only 12 hours a day and even though our parents were not HBO subscribers we figured out you could manipulate the UHF dial and catch it in black and white with some serious wavy lines running through the picture. That’s where I saw the majority of the New World Corman catalog. Hell, we would stare at anything through this static in the hopes of catching a boob or explosion. Lewis Teague’s LADY IN RED and DEATH RACE 2000 were favorites. Then it became an obsession of watching through drive-in fences, cutting school and sneaking out for midnight screenings.
What was the name of the video store you hit growing up and what sections could did you bolt fot?
I had some strange teenage years. From sheer boredom, I became a juvenile delinquent. At 15 I was doing some pretty stupid things and spent a year locked up. Eventually the State of Georgia sent me to a halfway house. I couldn’t take the monotony there either so I hooked up with 24 year old store clerk and bailed. I ended up living on the beach and working as a groundskeeper. The money was good enough to purchase my first VCR so I spent most of my time at Tybee Island Video until I exhausted every tape in the place. In college, I would drive the entire southeast getting video memberships to find obscure tapes. I would even drive 2 ½ hours to return them on time. You could always find me around the horror section or the Adults Only room.
If it was put out by Wizard, Paragon and Vestron I had to see it. My roommates and I would even check out projectors from the college and watch foreign films on our wall. Back then a VHS of 8 ½ or VIRIDIANA was like $50 and no video store in Southeast Georgia had a foreign film section. These 16mm cans were just collecting dust at the library. It was a wonderful score.
Who are the directors out there you follow?
There are many. Russ Meyer, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, John Carpenter, Sergio Corbucci, John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, León Klimovsky, Rinse Dream, Shunya Ito, José Mojica Marins, Terence Fischer, Jean Rollin, Seijun Suzuki, Kinji Fukasaku, James Whale, etc. I can watch anything by a director working on a small budget and take something away from it. My hands down favorite filmmakers are Roger Corman as a producer and William Castle as ballyhoo artist.
When did you first start playing with the camera?
Not until concentrating on still photography at Georgia Southern University. Studying Cindy Sherman’s untitled film still series had a major impact on me. The way she could convey so much about the roles of women and herself in a single frame. Her explorations of genre and time had a longer more complex story that I found fascinating. As a film geek it enlightened me in a way other photographers didn’t. My photographs started resembling something from a Bunuel, Fellini or Bava film. The logical progression was to start adding sound.
You made your first film in 1997, talk to us about that first experience and finally deciding to make that jump.
I was broke and floundering at local bars when I met a dominatrix who needed a camera operator for some fetish material. She had equipment so we started shooting a lesbian S&M scene the next day. The money was good and I could experiment with some Joel-Peter Witkin type imagery which was big with the Nine Inch Nails crowd at that time. We started shooting non-stop every day and night.
There were clients in Chicago that loved the stuff and would just send big checks with some instructions of some perversion they wanted to see. Usually a secretary hog tied in alley with a female boss spanking her or something of that nature. These led to some goth and fan boy type features. Borgs spanking star fleet commanders, lesbian vampires. Silly junk like that. Visually I kept trying to push the limit and experiment which started to piss the paying customers off. Guess it’s hard to jerk off to jump cuts and Dutch angles.
I had built up some good editing and shooting skills so I started volunteering my free time on student film shoots at Georgia State. I worked on a ton of them in every capacity and it was a great way to learn what not do when making a film. I don’t have a fetish so the bondage films bored me to death. You hang around with the S&M crowd long enough and their mental disorders really start to get on your nerves. It’s depressing and sad. The videos were complete shit and I knew it. So I abandoned the easy cash. Armed with some film students I decided to make a feature and get back to what I liked. That’s how DUMPSTER BABY came about.
You went just over 10 years between DUMPSTER BABY and DEAR GOD NO! Was it tough to get back on that horse?
The main thing was getting over how badly DUMPSTER BABY was handled. The distributor screwed up the sound duplication so it’s unwatchable. It ended up in every store, Amazon, overseas and on Netflix. I never saw a penny. Legit distribution chewed me up and spat me out.(Laughing). I wasn’t bitter. I just decided to do other things to make myself happy like finding my lovely wife, buying a house, steady paycheck, etc. Thanks to the persistence of producers Nick Morgan & Shane Morton I gave filmmaking another shot. The first day on set was a breeze. We shot 10 pages on Super 16mm that day and everyone was home by dinner time. It was like I never quit.
Were you kicking around other ideas for stories before you settled on DEAR GOD NO! ?
Over my 10 year absence, I worked on about 30 treatments while paying the bills as a graphic designer. DEAR GOD NO! was the merging of two of them. If I was going back into film production this would be the one. Even if it failed, I could die knowing we made the one film that I most wanted to see.
How long did it take you to shoot this film?
When you’re shooting on film with a micro budget you need a good fast crew. I knew their time was valuable because they were volunteering from big budget work. I wasn’t about to let them get bored so I spent three months planning every shot and hour of each day. Every detail was figured out from top to bottom. The only wild card was the bizarre things that inevitably happen on a set. We were able to pull it off in 8 ½ days.
Do you have a favorite scene in the film?
Yes, when the bikers are bombed out of their skulls and run across a hillbilly kid. It reflects the tone of the film nicely and exposes the underlying theme. It also gives the audience a false sense of relaxation from previous action sequences. The restrained score by Richard Davis is fantastic and actor Jett Bryant is wonderful. I also love every scene involving Jett and Paul McComiskey. If I had known how good those two were together before I wrote the script, there would have been much more emphasis placed on their class struggle.
What kind of difficulties did you come across making the film?
Shooting a 2 take to 1 ratio was difficult but the biggest was the bait store. My wife and I found this old country store from the late 1800’s that still had gas pumps. Pickers have been removing them all over the state so it was a really good score. We inquired and got the place for a decent price. It was in the middle of nowhere. No traffic. Nothing. That is until we showed up to film. Some serious logging was taking place down the highway and every 5 minutes a giant logging truck would drive by making long takes difficult. Then the locals showed up. Lot’s of them. Word had gotten out. They would drive by real slow with entire families in the back of their pick up trucks. We had several rednecks just drive onto the middle of the set and yell, “Yall making a movie?” One pissed off old guy tried to kick us off the property because his cousin’s niece or something owned it and he couldn’t believe she would allow such a thing. A newspaper reporter from 20 miles away showed up. It became ridiculous. These pumpkin bangers were bringing coolers and setting up lawn chairs. Finally, Jim Sligh who plays Sheriff Crews stood out in the middle of traffic impersonating a real officer and ran the locals off.
Your film was just picked up for distribution, can you walk us through that process and what hoops you had to jump through to make that happen?
That’s an International sales agent deal with Archstone. They are very enthusiastic and have had some success representing titles like MACHETE and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE Films. The hoop is always the money. You have to have lawyers. With straight up 50/50 distribution deals I’m very weary. I don’t know a single filmmaker who has made money off a domestic distribution deal once the manufacturing cost, marketing, deliverables, lawyer’s fees and distributor’s percentage is removed. I hear the major labels are getting pretty sketchy too. Selling outright scares me because I love this film and don’t want to loose all rights. We have many offers on the table right now but DEAR GOD NO! may be pulling one from the Radiohead / Louis CK playbook. This is the part of the business I hate and it’s the most crucial to do correctly. I’ll make a decision on domestic by March.
You did some limited self-distribution of the film and I know, especially out here in Portland, you ran into some bumps. Any advice for people who are looking to market their films directly to independent theaters?
It’s hard to get paid from theaters. You’re not supplying them with product every week so the motivation to be honest with you kind of blurs. Some are very good but next time out I would like to concentrate on alternate venues with our own projection equipment using social media to get the word out. It’s a ton of work but seeing the film with a crowd is the most rewarding.
Is it difficult working within a genre that has as much history as bikersploitation?
Not if you have seen them all. (Laughs) I think if you set out to work in any subgenre of film and you’re sincere it won’t be difficult. I’m a huge fan of biker films so I wanted to create something unique that would add to the genre and not be a clone of another biker film.
What are some of your favorite films of that genre?
For my money it’s THE WILD ANGELS. The opening shot when the kid on the tricycle gets snatched by his mother as Peter Fonda’s chopper pulls up then the soundtrack swells into Davey Allan & The Arrows fuzz guitar. Great stuff, perfect cast and a wonderful script. I’m also very fond of HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS, NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE, CYCLE SAVAGES, THE GLORY STOMPERS, STONE, PSYCHOMANIA, KILLERS ON WHEELS, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, and THE SAVAGE SEVEN. Hell, there aren’t many I don’t like. THE NAKED ANGELS could have used more nudity though.
Why do think the genre has lasted as long as it has? A lot of sub-genres in the world of Grindhouse kind of faded away but this genre has had some staying power whether we are talking about STONE COLD, SONS OF ANARCHY, and now DEAR GOD NO! It’s not hard to find current examples of good bikersploitation.
The volume has sure has decreased but I think people like a good anti-hero whether it be a biker, samurai or gunfighter. I wanted to play with that convention so my bikers are complete scumbags. Not pretty boy California types. Hopefully I won’t be the asshole to completely kill the genre.
How about you as a filmmaker, what kind of projects are you kicking around? If you tell me you are going to take another ten year break after a film like DEAR GOD NO! I may have to start an online ass-kicking petition.
(Laughing) No not this time. Well, DEAR GOD NO! is the middle part of a trilogy so I would like to finish that first. Then I have a female hit squad script. Blacksploitation film, bizarre sexploitation one, several hicksploitation films and a Women In Prison series I really want to make. All have many elements that each genre has never seen. Pretty difficult to achieve for Women In Prison. (Laughs) Oddly, they’re all period films set around 1973.
What advice do you have for first time filmmakers kicking around their first project?
Make what you know and add something fresh to its history. Then stick to your original vision and don’t deviate from it. It will find an audience so leave pleasing the masses to Hollywood. The hardest you will work is when the film is completed so enjoy the shoot and save half your budget for a professional poster, social media, festival entry fees, travel, marketing and experienced entertainment lawyers. Ask every filmmaker you meet as many questions as possible. Even if you’re annoying them. (Laughs).
Where do you stand on the PIPA and SOPA legislation? Obviously piracy is a problem but we don’t think that legislation was written well.
I don’t feel the people downloading pirated material would buy it anyway. Please don’t pirate my film.
Anything we can plug for you in addition to the flick?
Sure. I would love to plug all the gigs of my cast and crew. John Collins has a band called NAKID JEDEYE. If you’re in the NYC area be sure to catch them. My right hand man Nick Hood is touring with ZOROASTER so see their shows in a town near you. If your in Atlanta, be sure to catch lead actor Jett Bryant’s band BIGFOOT, Del Weldon’s old man’s band GHOST RIDER CAR CLUB, Dusty Booze’s band DUSTY BOOZE & THE BABY HATERS and Johnny McGowan’s band GRINDER NOVA. Obviously don’t miss our soundtrack folks THE FORTY FIVES, THE BITERS & THE BOOZE who are always playing somewhere. You can catch actors Shane Morton, Rachelle Lynn and Madeline Brumby hosting THE SILVER SCREAM SPOOKSHOW and actor Nick Morgan hosting SPLATTER CINEMA both events are held monthly at The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta. Paul McComiskey can be seen in the sci-fi film MYSTIC RISING, SOUTH OF SOUTHERN and THE IVY LEAGUE. You can catch actress Parker Honeycutt in BLAST OFF BURLESQUE. Actor Tim McGahren has an interesting project in the works and I can’t even keep up with the million projects Jim Stacy has going. If you see a Bigfoot, Yeti or man carrying a giant prosciutto it’s sure to be him.
Guess I should stop name dropping and plug the film. DEAR GOD NO! will be screening February 23rd at the Tampa Pitcher Show Theatre in Tampa, Florida; March 8th, Kriterion Cinema in Amsterdam; March 10th at The Days of the Dead Con in Atlanta and March 13th in Utrecht, Netherlands. DVD will be out by summer one way or another.
Last question. You’re pulling a double feature, what are you playing?
SWEET SUGAR and THE CHEERLEADERS.
STAY TUNED LATER THIS WEEK FOR A FULL REVIEW
OF DEAR GOD NO!, A BADASS TOP TEN LIST FROM
MY MAN BICKERT, AND A KICK-ASS GIVEAWAY!
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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