After being surprised by the content and conscientiousness of DR. HUMPINSTEIN’S EROTIK CASTLE, I was looking forward to talking to director and Gonzoriffic head honcho Andrew Shearer. He didn’t disappoint. An intelligent film-maker who defiantly refuses to compromise, his work is unique, fun and wonderfully low-budget. We cover a lot of ground, and his answers are thoughtful and passionate. Please enjoy.
Sweetback (SB): Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of DR. HUMPINSTEIN’S EROTIK CASTLE, I want to talk a little about Gonzoriffic and the ethos behind it.
Your mission is to provide quality alternative entertainment with a strong focus on innovative, positive roles for women in film. What is it about modern genre films – or films in general – that pushed you to focus on this mission?
Andrew Shearer (AS): My daily life is full of interesting, talented people, and I think they deserve to be in movies. The women I know are fierce artists, beautiful, and totally original. I enjoy Hollywood movies and independent films, but I don’t see anyone like my friends up on the screen. I don’t see women getting the kind of roles men get, or being taken seriously when they do.
Given the way things are with our economy and the way entertainment is so quickly consumed and discarded, a lot less risks are being taken in the industry. I pay to see the sequels and the remakes, because if they didn’t exist, what would Gonzoriffic be the alternative to? We’re dangerous because we don’t owe anyone money, and none of the movie business rules apply to us.
SB: On the commentary for DR. HUMPINSTEIN you mention that your work has been misinterpreted in the past. Even vilified. Can you talk a little about the reaction to your films, and why you think some have taken you to task?
AS: We live in weird times, and American culture has become far more conservative than I ever expected. The sad fact is that if I was making ultra-violent, gore-soaked horror flicks, I’d be vanilla. I can remember a time when people were genuinely freaked out by that stuff, and now it’s all over the place. Kids are seeing exploding heads in video games every day. But let half a breast slip out of someone’s costume, and you’d think a public figure got assassinated.
My Facebook account was deactivated due to a movie clip I posted that was guilty only of “sexuality”, no nudity at all. And I have one strike left on YouTube for similar reasons (strike two happened when I appealed their decision to pull the video). There are people who love and applaud me for what I’m doing, especially GLBT audiences and fans of old-school underground cinema. But for some reason, women being sexy or showing their skin in a way that differs from beer commercials and Maxim spreads really flips people out.
SB: Let’s jump back a bit. While HUMPINSTEIN seems clearly influenced by juvenile delinquent films, burlesque, Russ Meyer films and others from the Something Weird catalogue, the short films of yours I’ve seen show a wide variety of influences. What were some of the movies that shaped your world view?
AS: I’m so glad my influences are that obvious, because I have a deep affinity for those kinds of films. As a kid, my first love was drawing, so I became a natural observer of everything around me. As a fan of movies of all varieties, I take something away from all of them. EASY RIDER and THE MUPPET MOVIE were films my parents were really into, and they were heavily present in my young environment. The posters, still images, and music were always around in one way or another. I understood at an early age why rebellion was so valuable, why individualism was such a vital trait, and what great things you and your friends could find if you cared to go looking.
SB: On a similar note, how did you first start developing your love of film-making? Did you pursue making short films as a child?
AS: My grandfather loved movies – he was the original film geek. My dad was more of the horror and drive-in movie fan, but he was also into how special effects worked. We ended up watching a lot of TV shows that featured behind-the-scenes footage. I remember picking out film magazines as a gift idea for him, but then reading them myself after he finished. We were both pretty fascinated by it all.
Anytime I could get my hands on a relative’s camcorder, I would quickly think up a story and put my family or friends in it. Then I’d take the tape home and learn to edit on two VCR decks. I taught myself how to add sound effects, music and voices just by plugging in different cords and cables until I got results. By the time I was 13, I had about 40 tapes full of shorts, commercials, music videos and talk shows taking up all the shelf space under our TV.
SB: It seems at this point that you’ve created a team of actors and actresses who regularly appear in your films. Considering that the roles occasionally can be quite demanding, how do you go about casting your films?
AS: It really comes down to how dedicated the person is. If I know they will show up and enthusiastically do anything I need them to, that person is going to get the best roles and appear in more stuff. But everybody you see in Gonzoriffic films are friends of mine. Typically, what happens is someone will act in one of my movies and see how much fun it is, then they show it to a friend who then wants to get involved, too.
I’ve been extremely lucky to meet and work with so many great people year after year, but it’s a delicate thing. You can’t just film somebody and then that’s it. You have a responsibility to make them look and sound as good as possible. Take care of them on set, be appreciative of their time, and finish the movie so they can see it. If you get it right, they’ll keep coming back, and everyone involved will get better and better.
SB: On the commentary for HUMPINSTEIN you repeatedly state that many of the opinions stated by the Humpinstein character reflect your own feelings, and in fact you’re quite poignant in describing it as a personal film. How important do you think it is for your films to make a statement?
AS: I could seriously hug you for listening to my DVD commentary! Print that!
I don’t concentrate so much on making any kind of a statement with my movies. It’s just not me, I don’t have this dire need to be so serious or be taken so seriously. Besides, Gonzoriffic as an entity is a kind of statement all on its own, so that’s taken care of right away. But sometimes, I will be working on a project and realize that my controlling idea has more personal roots than I realized when I first came up with it.
In a case like that, I have to be careful not to make it so obvious that I forget about being entertaining. People are smart, and they can read between the lines. And even if they can’t, I’m fine with them taking away their own impression of what they saw. If anything I do sparks any thought at all, that’s a compliment. Mostly what I’m trying to do is have fun and make the best movie I can. I feel like getting carried away with self-important jack-offery would be a bad idea.
SB: Perhaps the most surprising thing about DR. HUMPINSTEIN’S EROTIK CASTLE is that it’s actually quite tame, featuring only cartoonish violence and no real nudity. Is there a concern that genre fans might be disappointed by the lack of exploitative elements, or is subverting their expectations by design?
AS: If people want horrifying violence, they know where to get it. If it’s explicit nudity or sex, they know where they can get that, too. I don’t want to do what’s already been done, I have no interest in meeting expectations set up by what people have seen before. We’re alternative entertainment, and what I hope to offer is a unique experience. I know I could sell more DVDs if I had the expensive gore and skin, but we’re usually working with under $100 each time. Sometimes half that. It would be a waste for us.
I’d much rather write dialog that is the equivalent of watching someone’s head explode, that gets the same “holy shit!” from the audience. And by showing just enough of an actor’s flesh to make the viewer’s eyes go wide, that power can never go away. The tease is strong, it has worked for generations, and I think it’s much sexier.
SB: I love the stark, black & white look of the film, which rather surprisingly manages to capture a lot of the feel of an early 60s B-movie. How did you go about achieving this retro stylization?
AS: Thanks! Black and white is really forgiving when you’re shooting on video. Stuff that would normally look grainy or blown out in color turns out really nice when you go B&W. Beyond that, I tried to pretend I was filming with old equipment, so I didn’t do a lot of the hand-held shots or quick pans that typify camcorder footage. I also took care to not have lots of things in the shot that would identify as modern, and keep the costumes as simple as possible.
Movies I watched over and over again when I made “Dr. Humpinstein’s Erotik Castle” were AC Stephens’ ORGY OF THE DEAD and Doris Wishman’s BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (ORGY for structure and dialog, and BAD GIRLS for the photography). I showed these films to the cast as well so they would understand how the performances were done in those old movies, but made a point to let them know we weren’t going to be making fun of them. Those people were trying to make the best movie they could, and we would need that same attitude if it was gonna work.
SB: What sort of difficulties have you had in distributing your films? Obviously, your work is rather niche, but the audience who love the films that HUMPINSTEIN tributes are ravenous. What sort of response have you received from genre fans?
AS: Other than the problems with YouTube and Facebook, it’s just gotten easier and easier every year for us to get our films seen. There are more festivals than ever before, more ways to get your film out to the public, and more control over your own material. I released our 20-minute sex comedy, ONE NINE HUNDRED, via Funny Or Die a couple of weeks ago. It has been watched almost 2,000 times already and has a 75% approval rating from the users.
Gonzoriffic has been around for over 10 years now. The people who love us the most are fans of queer cinema, classic exploitation film, underground art, and punk rock. They respond to the D.I.Y. aesthetic, the way we portray women, and the Gonzo humor that is just as sincere as it is shocking. We aren’t trying to be something we’re not. We’re just trying to be.
SB: What’s coming up next for Gonzoriffic and yourself?
AS: We’re in the middle of about 6 different projects that will premiere this October at our annual midnight show. Athens Cine, our local art house theater, has committed to screening our work every year since they opened in 2007. I can’t tell you how much having the support of a movie theater in our city has helped shape the way we make films. Seeing your work on the big screen with an audience is frightening, but you learn so much about what works and what doesn’t. We sit back for 2 hours and watch everything we did that year, pay attention to the audience, talk to them after, and then start working on more stuff for next year’s show.
Our local support is at an all-time high right now, and we’ve partnered with the Effie’s Club Follies burlesque troupe for a slumber party film that we’re shooting in a few weeks. This will be the Fred Olen Ray / Jim Wynorski film I always wanted them to make. I submitted our lesbian zombie drama MAE OF THE DEAD to a couple of festivals, so hopefully people out there will dig it. I’m working on putting more of my work on Amazon On Demand (our 2007 feature FAKE BLOOD has been on there a while and has done well).
Really, my plan is just to not stop making movies. I know my luck can’t last forever, but I kind of hope it does. It has been a dream come true for me.
SB: If readers would like to purchase a copy of DR. HUMPINSTEIN’S EROTIK CASTLE, or would like to keep up on Gonzoriffic’s current and future work, what’s the best way for them to do so? (Just an opportunity to give social networking links, website links, etc)
AS: Our official website is www.gonzoriffic.com, and we’ve got a store where we sell cheap DVDs of our most recent stuff. It has links to our Facebook and YouTube pages, and you can also read my production diary that goes all the way back to 2003!
SB: Anything else to plug?
AS: My charity is Project Safe, a local volunteer organization working to end domestic violence. If you have 8 bucks, don’t spend it on one of my DVDs. Donate it by going to www.project-safe.org and then contact me via our site. I’ll send you a movie of your choice for free.
SB: And, finally. what advice would you give to young, low-budget film-makers who are trying to follow their own creative visions?
AS: I once spent two hours on the phone with Mink Stole (star of all of John Waters’ films), and she gave me this advice: LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. Not only will you see and experience things, you’ll meet people. Aspiring film-makers are often full of excuses as to why they haven’t made anything, and a typical gripe is they can’t find any actors. Go to shows, go to plays, go to art galleries, go to book stores, conventions, coffee shops, open mics, skate parks, anywhere interesting people might be. Just don’t be a fucking creep.
SHOOT SOMETHING, and shoot it on anything. Do not get all caught up in what kind of gear you think you need, because you don’t need it. Most people carry a video camera with them at all times – they’re called smart phones. And most of them shoot better quality footage than the camera I used to make my first feature years ago. I cannot stress enough the value of learning how to compose a shot and edit what you did. Even if you can only shoot pictures and not video, go do that and put a story together. Put someone or something in front of your lens and MAKE A MOVIE.
Then make another movie. And another. The biggest obstacle artists face is fear of failure. But if you’re fucking up, that means you’re out there trying, and that puts you light years ahead of those people who are sitting in their mom’s basement bitching about movies on the internet. Remember there is no one else like you in the whole world, your point of view is unique, and your stories need to be told. You’re a snowflake. A dirty, sexy snowflake.
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