Sweetback (SB): Thanks so much for talking to us about your work, Jason.
Jason Brasier (JB): Thank you. I always love to talk about film.
SB: Let’s start by digging into your background a little. You have very varied inspirations – From John Ford and Sergio Leone, to John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. What is your first film-related memory, and when did your passion for movies really develop?
JB: I do have a varied background when it comes to inspiration. John Carpenter and Sam Raimi were the first two men who really inspired me to pick up a camera and tell a story. As I got interested in film-making I started going back and watching films with a new perspective. Watching how they moved the camera, watching special features on every film I could find. I even remember taking notes as I watched. During high school is when I really got interested in classic cinema. Thats when I really got into westerns and fell in love with Leone and Ford’s work. In fact, I think you can see a lot of that in how I tell a story and move the camera in my projects. Like how Ford always had a lot of rich and smooth movement in his master shots or how Carpenter could make a shot of a blank wall feel like there’s more to what we’re seeing. I always look at classic films and filmmakers as my foundation as a filmmaker and try to build on that and create my own style. I’ve always been a storyteller, but my first film related memory that I can recall is going to watch THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER with my grandparents. I am still a huge animation fan.
I love telling stories and that’s why I keep doing projects. I want to get better and the only way to do that is to keep working at it. John Carpenter and the horror genre are what started it all.
SB: You went to Missouri State University for Media Production, obviously with the motivation of eventually tackling directing. Did you always want to tackle horror productions, or do you see that as just a beginning step to exploring all sorts of genres?
JB: Directing is my first love and I have always enjoyed it. It’s actually funny, but I had not directed a horror piece since I was in high school. STAGE FRIGHT was my return to that genre as a director and I felt right at home. Before STAGE FRIGHT I wrote and directed a post apocalyptic western web series called DRIFTER: BROKEN ROAD. My producing partner and star/writer/co-producer of STAGE FRIGHT, Brittney Greer and I wanted to do something the polar opposite of that. We both love horror films, so it was a logical choice for our second company production. As for me, I love period pieces, science fiction, westerns, you name it. For me, it all comes down to story. If we have a script, but the story is not solid, I won’t touch it. There are certain films I know I want to direct, but there are also ones that I just want to get made. So I hope to do more producing between directing. I do know that I want to remake my first short film I made back in 2001. I think I could do that story justice now.
SB: Your production company American Wasteland Entertainment is a partnership with Brittney Greer – who also stars in your web-series STAGE FRIGHT. How did this partnership develop, and what does Brittney bring to the table – or stage, in this case – that makes her so invaluable?
JB: Brittney and I met in screenwriting classes at Missouri State University. In fact, I remember our first hello was when we both wore Grindhouse movie shirts one night to class. I had read a lot of her scripts during that time and loved her writing. After that we worked on a couple of short films together. She was always a delight to be around and full of so much life and creativity. So we were close friends before American Wasteland Entertainment was even a thought. When I was developing the company, I knew I wanted a partner in it. My wife actually brought up Brittney’s name and I knew I had to ask her. She brings another level of creativity to the mix. We both are very picky on story and our scripts. We keep each other level headed and at the same time challenge each other. She simply loves and cares about film-making and you can’t top that. I would trust no other person to be my partner in the company.
SB: Talk a little about the inspirations behind STAGE FRIGHT. The abandoned theater makes for a wonderfully spooky and gothic setting, bringing to mind films like Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA and Michele Soavi STAGEFRIGHT: AQUARIUS. How did you get access to such a unique location, and how did the idea originally develop?
JB: I had actually always thought about doing a horror project in a theater. That goes back to my play directing days in my home town theater, where there were ghost stories. The development of our story basically came from Brittney and I writing down a bunch of ideas and finding the one story that jumped out at us. She really liked the basic concept of the STAGE FRIGHT story, but we both agreed that it needed some work. We both watched some horror projects online and of course went back to films we enjoyed in the genre. We hadn’t seen or heard of very many films taking place in a theater, so we wanted ours to be unique and stand out. The one thing we agreed on from the get go was to avoid jump scares. We were making this for a different medium and we didn’t know how the audience would be watching. It could be on their computer, their phone, etc. Plus we didn’t know how loud their volume would be. So jump scares equaled to big of a risk. That’s why we agreed to focus on the creep factor. Creepiness, if done well, can come across in any medium. So each draft we really worked hard to make the story work well and make sure that the audience would be creeped out or disturbed by something. I remember we had our last read through with Zac, who played Emmett in the production, on the final script and we were all like, this creeps us out.
That’s when we knew we were good to go.
The theater is something we were really worried about. We had even thought about going back to the theater I did plays in, back in Willow Springs, when I younger. It was a sound idea, but I knew that content wise, we would get shut down due to the creepy and horrific story we had. So we searched for weeks, then got a hit back from the Vandivort Theater in Springfield. We met with them, did a walk-through of the location and made our deal to shoot there. They were very accommodating and supportive through the entire process. We raised enough money through paying gigs and sponsors to rent the theater for a week.
SB: When developing the idea, was the concept always to produce it as a web series in five parts? Did you write the script so that there were natural stopping points, or was that something that had to be divided afterwards?
JB: We actually wrote it out in the same format I did DRIFTER: BROKEN ROAD in. We approached it like a mini series and wrote it like a regular script. We would just break it up every 7-10 pages or where it worked best. We weren’t concerned as much about length of episodes, as we were with the overall story and making sure each episode pushed you forward, wanting to know more. I am an outlining machine when it comes to writing, so I outlined each episode before Brittney and I even started the script. That way we knew what we wanted in each episode before we wrote.
SB: What was the filming schedule like? How long did you shoot for, and what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered?
JB: The filming schedule was pretty normal for an indie production. We shot in Springfield and Nixa, Missouri, so the commute to locations was nice and simple. In April 2012 we shot every weekend at all locations except the theater. We shot the theater the entire first week of May 2012. The shoot in April was your pretty standard, get off work, go eat dinner, go to set, film till complete. Then do it again the next morning. The theater shoot was pretty hellacious. We all have day jobs right now, so we had to shoot that entire week after 6:00 pm till we were done. I think the longest day we filmed that week was about 15-16 hours. I think, for me, the biggest challenges we faced were exhaustion. We worked all day and filmed all night for 5 days straight. That drains you quite quickly. But I am a firm believer in surrounding yourself with good like-minded people. We all really came together and made STAGE FRIGHT what it was.
SB: Do you see a lot of future in the serialized web-series format, or are you more interested in tackling feature length productions?
JB: I’ve been wanting to do web based productions since 2004. We will be doing more web serials, but we do want to produce feature length films as well. In fact, If memory serves me correctly, we have three written and two outlined. We are just working hard to build an audience so when it comes time to do a film, we won’t have to worry about that. Its not gonna happen overnight, but we plan to work hard at entertaining everyone we can to make that happen.
SB: What’s coming up next for AMERICAN WASTELAND ENTERTAINMENT? Do you see yourself doing more directing, or focusing more on producing in the future? Might we even see you trying your hand in some acting?
JB: Funny you should ask all of that. My first love has and always will be directing and writing. Producing has become my third love. I do make the occasional cameo, which I do quite a few times in STAGE FRIGHT. As of right now, we are working on the script for the DRIFTER: BROKEN ROAD sequel. I actually have to do a little acting in that, which I was trying to avoid, but with how its set up, my cameo in BROKEN ROAD has to make an appearance now. We have many things we are wanting to produce. We hope to do quite a few things in 2013, the drifter sequel probably being the biggest undertaking. We have also talked about a possible follow up to STAGE FRIGHT with how much of a buzz its starting to make. We have the story for it, but we’ll just have to see though.
SB: Anything else to promote? And if readers want to keep up on your current and future projects, what’s the best way to do so?
JB: Check out our first production, DRIFTER: BROKEN ROAD, at DrifterSeries.com. We are currently working on the script for DRIFTER 2 and plan to shoot in late 2013. You can keep up with us and our projects at AmericanWastelandEnt.com and find us on facebook at Facebook.com/AmericanWastelandEntertainment.
SB: And finally, what advice do you have for young or inexperienced low-budget directors who are looking to tackle their first project?
JB: Just do it and keep working at it. Its not easy, but if you want to get better at it, you have to keep doing it. We all make mistakes, but there’s a difference between those who give up and don’t learn, versus those who learn from them and work to better themselves. Surround yourself with good like minded people. You don’t need someone around you who brings you down and discourages you.
SB: Thanks again for your time, Jason! Really enjoyed STAGE FRIGHT, and looking forward to reading your answers.
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