VICTOR JULIET’S DIRECTOR’S CUT is jam-packed with interesting ideas and characters, and this material comes directly from the brain of director Michael Fitzgerald. He was good enough to talk to Daily Grindhouse about his love of Full Moon Video, where the character of Victor Juliet comes from, and making horror on a budget.
Sweetback (SB): I find that a lot of low-budget filmmakers tend to wear their influences on their sleeves. VICTOR JULIET’S DIRECTOR’S CUT features direct references to Romero, J.R. Bookwalter, Fred Vogel and other notable names in the genre. Aside from these names and their films, what are some of the films and other media that were the strongest influence on your formative years?
Michael Fitzgerald (MF): I would have to say initially Charles Band’s Full Moon Films was my strongest influence, in that he built his films on the strength of its characters. When I set out to make VICTOR JULIET’S DIRECTOR’S CUT a feature film with little to no-budget, I knew that all I could hope to offer were unique characters.
SB: I’m going to guess that you were a major horror nut growing up. I think horror, more than any other genre, makes die-hard fans want to get involved with film-making in some direct way. Talk a little bit about when you decided you wanted to make films, and how you decided to go about pursuing it.
MF: Okay, here’s the true story of how I began FIENDISH FILMS, Ha Ha Ha. (Insert sound of thunder.)
So, my good friend Anthony “Joe” Montreal (who plays Adam and Fredrick Swanson) returned from CINEMA WASTELAND with an independent low-to-no-budget shot on video (V.H.S.) film titled THE WOLF HUNTER. He told me how there were many people at the horror convention who independently shot and sold their own films. I was inspired by both the film, and by the desire to create rather than consume. Soon afterward I sold off my collection of horror & sci-fi films and toys to purchase equipment for filmmaking.
SB: I’m fascinated by the “let’s put on a show” aspects of low-budget film-making. Let’s talk about the original concept for VICTOR JULIET’S DIRECTOR’S CUT. Was it always designed to be in a five act structure with a post-modern twist?
MF: Nah, I began with WILL WORK FOR FOOD, which was just my first attempt at filmmaking, then after meeting Matthew Auslander and developing the character of Victor Juliet for CALLBACK, I inserted him into the faux behind-the-scenes WILL DIRECT FOR FOOD, after that I realized that together with a couple more shorts I’d have a feature length film.
SB: Matthew Auslander really throws himself into the role of Victor Juliet. How did you go about casting that role, and how difficult was it to cast the rest of the film?
MF: Matthew is great. I can honestly say that without him there would not have been a film. If not for his performance, I would not have been interested in continuing with the character. As for his casting, casting is the wrong word as that suggests that I chose specific actors over others, I simply met Matt and found his personal theatrical style idea for the role of the egotistic madman Victor Juliet. (I mean that in the best possible way.)
As for the rest of the roles, there were those I wrote with specific individuals (friends) in mind, such as Rachel Ward and Peter Thomas, and those roles that I would fill with whoever I could get to show up that day. That is not to discount in anyway their performance; I just can’t take any credit for casting them. I loved Heather Allen as Abigail Smythe, but I have to give Matthew credit for getting her involved in the film.
SB: You pop up in a small role in the first act short WILL WORK FOR FOOD. Surprisingly for a low-budget production, aside from this small part you didn’t take a large role in the film. Was this because you wanted to focus more on the direction, or do you simply have little interest in acting?
MF: God, I wish that I had been able to focus even more on directing. I never intended to be in front of the camera, but when no one else is there you just don’t have a choice. I like acting in small roles in other peoples films, but consider it a failure when I have to act in my own. (That’s also me as the camera operator in CALLBACK.)
SB: How long was the shooting schedule? Did you shoot chronologically, or were you shooting around the availability of actors?
16 days over the course of roughly three years, shot in chronological order around the limited availability of actor’s. Half the reason there is so many characters in the film in small roles was that I wasn’t sure I could get most of them back for a second day. None the less, it took way too long, but in my defense after WILL WORK FOR FOOD, I knew I had a lot to learn before I could continue. Sometimes’ it was scheduling, sometimes it was just me working up the nerve to do it again.
MF: The final segment works both as a fun short, but also as a representation of the classic battle between filmmaker and critic. While Victor believes that someone must experience the film-making process to properly be able to critique a film, blog owner Abigail thinks that everyone has a right to their opinion. Which side of the fence do you fall on?
My issue is not with the critic’s final determination of a film’s value; it’s with how that determination was achieved. I think that the critic should not only be able to explain what was wrong with a film, but also why it was wrong. They should also be able to explain why the things work in a film when they do. Unfortunately, many critics lack the experience and education in film to do so. Of the few other reviews of VJDC that I read, I can’t truly enjoy those that are positive of the film, without understanding why they thought it was “a crazy ride thru filmic snuff and zombies”. But I would love to know why thematically it would have been important to see Rachel’s tits.
SB: What were the most significant challenges while filming VICTOR JULIET’S DIRECTOR’S CUT? It appeared that much of the first segment (WILL WORK FOR FOOD) had to be post-dubbed due to sound recording issues. Was sound something you were regularly struggling with?
MF: VJDC was all about me learning to make films. WILL WORK FOR FOOD was day one of that education. The lesson being: Listen to the camera’s sound through headphones before using the RADIO SHACK microphone you found buried in your garage. Sound became less of an issue latter on as I acquired better equipment, but it’s really its own separate expertise and like lighting and composition it is something that I will work to improve.
SB: On a similar note, there’s a great “poor man’s process” shot in the film where an actress (Nikki Perdikakis) is being driven to a film set, but there’s a small visible tree that betrays that the car is actually standing still and being rocked. Are moments like these a constant head-ache, or do you often find yourself having to make do with the materials you’ve been provided with?
MF: Would you be willing to believe that we were followed by a landscaping truck for the duration of that shot?
Really, these moments are not a head-ache. It would have been a head-ache I chose to re-shoot the scene, but obviously I never reshot a scene. No, these moments are all part of my (hopefully) continuing education (and always good for a laugh). Hey, I’m simply proud enough to have got everything else in the shot right.
SB: I have to ask – who owns the house that the final poker scene takes place in? Those FULL MOON posters decorating the walls were pretty amazing. Especially the ones for ARENA and ELIMINATORS. Definitely formative films for myself.
Abigail’s home for her first scene and the poker scene, as well as Victor’s office and Bruce Hewitt’s home was shot in my apartment. Those are my posters and for the longest time (before I began making videos) FULL MOON and the work of Charles Band were my passion. So much so that for a time I ran the most definitive website on FULL MOON titled Full Moon Fiend’s Guide to the Full Moon Universe www.geocities.ws/fullmoonfiend , from which came my inspiration for FIENDISH FILMS.
MF: After filming was completed, what was your process for seeking out distribution? Did you show the film at festivals, or was the material a bit of a hard sell?
I had little in the way of illusions regarding the film’s prospects. I knew from the beginning that self-distribution was in the cards, but really that was all I ever really wanted. That was the dream from the beginning, just to make something I could be proud of and set up a table at a horror-con like CINEMA WASTELAND, and enjoy being a member of the community of independent filmmakers which I admired.
SB: The closing credits mention – James Bond style – that Victor Juliet will return in VICTOR JULIET’S SECOND CUT. Is this still something you’re aiming for in the future? Or, is Juliet’s return not in the cards?
MF: While I would enjoy making a sequel, my narcissism is not so great (and yes, it is great. Hell, it has to be just to think you can make you own film) to believe that there is any demand for the film.
SB: What projects have you been working on since the film’s completion? Is there anything that readers of Daily Grindhouse should be looking out for?
MF: Um, no. Really for a while I just got distracted shooting interviews and comedic shorts for a web series titled THE FIENDS, which infrequently involves the character of Victor Juliet and Fiendish Films Studios.
So, if you’re part of the 50/50 split of people who found Victor entertaining and not the ones who “just wanted to punch him in the face” (actual quote) then check out THE FIENDS at our youtube page.
SB: For those interested in following what you’re currently working on, or might be working on in the future, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
MF: Currently, I am working on developing my skills by shooting a series of short films. (Again I guess.) But not with the same intent as VJDC. (I think.) Though they’ll all be contemporary versions of H.P. Lovecraft short stories. (I’m not doing the same thing again!)
No, what I’m really hoping to do is shoot GRAVESIGHT, the zombie film that I refer to in VJDC. (Which will not be a series of shorts.)
If I do anything worthwhile, it’ll be up on youtube.com/FIENDISHFILMSSTUDIOS.
SB: Anything else to plug?
MF: This spring RISE UP AND FALL, an independent crime feature film in which I worked on as both cast in crew (see question 16) will be released by my friend Brian Hewitt. You can follow him at youtube.com/RISEUPANDFALL.
SB: And what advice do you have for young filmmakers interested in putting together their own projects? Any words of wisdom?
MF: Become a charming son-of-a-bitch and make many new friends. Everything you need to make your film is out there in either the talents or skills of an individual or in something they can share such as a prop or location. Before you can draw on this resource, it’s best to foster some good will on your behalf. Helping on someone else’s project is a good way to meet actors and technicians. Offering to provide free videography for civic events involves you in a community that often has several location and man power assets. Heck, even if your new friends can neither cast or crew, nor provide a location or prop, it’s always great to have people who speak well of you to others who may hold those resources.
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