There’s very little familiar about Richard Powell’s demented body-horror short-film FAMILIAR. While ostensibly digging into the Cronenbergian idea of organic rot or a diseased “other” taking control, the short Canadian film chooses to take a much different approach to the idea of an internal struggle – climaxing in an explicit act of self mutilation that is as cathartic as it is horrific. Never has a mid-life crisis been so overwhelmingly bleak.
Slickly made on a low-budget, FAMILIAR is anchored by both Richard Powell’s confident hand behind the camera and Robert Nolan’s admirable control in front of it. Nolan is a revelation, a deep sadness visible in his eyes as his inner monologue betrays the malevolence fueling his character’s motivations. Even while audibly planning on ditching his family and starting anew, he retains a strange sympathy that maintains itself as we see his body start to revolt against him. The change in his performance to desperate intensity in these final few moments is astounding, and he brings much needed reality to the climax of chaotic bloodletting.
Powell obviously realizes he has something special in Nolan (the two have collaborated previously on the short WORM) and keeps the camera returning to his face; whether sitting passively at the dinner table or lying awake in bed. Powell has enough trust in his actor to let his performance do much of the early heavy lifting, but also has the savvy to subtly ramp up the tension, leading to some impressive (and messy) special effects sequences that are painful to watch for all the right reasons. These late bursts of gore (realized by the make-up masters at The Butcher Shop) leave a lasting impression, and the short as a whole has a surprising resonance.
Powell and FAMILIAR producer Zach Green have recently finished fundraising for HEIR, the final short film from their production company Fatal Pictures. The upcoming short will feature Robert Nolan once again,as well as genre stalwart Bill Oberst Jr., and will (proudly) use practical FX to bring to life what sounds like an incredibly unique monster film. As they transition into production, Green and Powell took some time to chat with Daily Grindhouse about the history of Fatal Pictures, crowdfunding, and the mechanics of body-horror.
Sweetback (SB): I’d like to begin by asking what originally prompted the two of you to form FATAL PICTURES back in 2007, and what elements you would say defines the work you’ve produced so far?
Zach Green (ZG): Richard and I met back in 2003, where we had both had attended film school. In the third term production class the students got to each pitch films to the faculty. Richard’s film got chosen to get produced, and I was the editor on the film. Initially, Richard and I formed a very professional and strong rapport in the editing room, being very efficient and producing quality work. As the years went on we worked on a handful of films together. Naturally, we only improved and got stronger at what we do. When 2006 came around and it was time to produce our next film, we wanted to release and market the film properly under a film under a production company. Thus, Fatal Pictures was born, and that first film was CONSUMPTION (2008).
I feel what defines Fatal Pictures work is I can honestly say we put everything we have into everyone of our productions and/or projects. We try to collaborate with the best professionals we can, who we feel will be able to help us achieve what we envision. Richard and I complement one another in the sense that we both bring a different set of skills to Fatal Pictures. Lastly, what I feel ultimately defines the work of Fatal Pictures is our drive, focus, dedication and passion for what we do.
SB: Zach, you’ve worked as a producer on all of Fatal Picture’s projects so far, but have also taken a more active role as editor and casting director for WORM and CONSUMPTION. What are your main duties as producer, and as the projects get larger does it force you to remove yourself creatively from the work?
ZG:. When it comes to producing our films, the first step is of course trying attain the finance. All of our films thus far have been personally financed between myself and Richard, but our latest film HEIR we decided to take to crowdfunding, and try Kickstarter. Mainly, because we cannot afford to finance another film ourselves. Once the film has locked its budget, I will move onto acquiring the cast and crew, dealing with a fair share of paper work, permits, deal memos, insurances, and receipts from production etc. Just overseeing the entire project, making sure everything is running smooth and everyone is happy.
Our last film FAMILIAR was the first film from Fatal Pictures I wasn’t the editor on. Not an easy process when you are usually the editor. It was a very strange and awkward feeling, having to relinquish control over one of your films to another person to edit. It was a learning experience to say the least. I’m very happy to say, personally, I love the edit of the film. We had wonderful editors. I definitely plan to get back into the editor chair shortly. I wouldn’t necessarily say as the projects get larger it forces me to remove myself creatively. It can almost open the door for more opportunity to be creative that a short, and if I were the editor on the particular project, there’s not much more creative you can get. My main passion and focus isn’t so much on the creative side at the moment. I’m more dedicated and passionate about the business side of things and to learn and to grasp as much as the producing side of things as I can.
SB: Richard, you both write and direct your projects. Considering how deeply you’re involved with both the creative and business side, do you limit your scope when writing – knowing that it will have to fit into a budget? Or do you write as freely as possible and hope that the money can be found afterward?
Richard Powell (RP): I don’t think I do, I think I am simply more interested in smaller, more confined stories. I am more into characters than sprawling plot or spectacle. WORM was actually quite ambitious for a short film in my opinion, considering the end goal of the story is the examination of one man’s inner life. We didn’t need make that story take place in a school or shoot the movie on film. I wrote that story because that’s how I wanted to tell it, then we figured out the budget. That’s one thing I’m proud of, our approach begins from a creative place first, before the business considerations begin to factor in. Then the challenge is to rise to meet the goal we have set for ourselves. We always seems to set a new challenge for our selves, almost as a way to force growth. Our attempt at raising funds through Kickstarter and hiring Bill Oberst Jr was the new challenge for HEIR.
SB: FAMILIAR is brimming with tension, but so much of that is the result of the lead performance by the wonderful Canadian actor Robert Nolan. How did you first encounter Robert, and what does he bring to the table as an actor that has made you want to collaborate with him?
ZG: I had first encountered Mr. Robert Nolan back in 2009 when I was looking to cast WORM. Naturally I started reaching out to actors I’ve worked with prior to. I was on the phone with an actress I had previously worked with, and I was telling her about the part. She had given me Robert’s number, I immediately called him to see if he would be interested in the part, and I’m happy to say he was. We then set up an audition. When Robert first read for the part, Richard and I both really felt that we had our guy to play the part of Geoffrey Oswald Dodd. We later had asked him if he wanted to play the part of Geoffrey Dodd. Robert willingly said yes, and so it began, the first collaboration between Robert Nolan and Fatal Pictures was to be born.
SB: In the short, John Dodd’s inner turmoil exhibits itself physically in what at first appears (at first) to be large tumors on his body. It’s difficult to watch him cut into his flesh and not be reminded of body horror and the works of David Cronenberg. Was Cronenberg an influence when developing the project?
RP: I really like Cronenberg but I’d say my inspiration for FAMILIAR came from my previous short WORM. FAMILIAR is really a further exploration of some of the themes and ideas brought up in WORM. The goal wasn’t to make a body horror film, but that’s what others want to classify it as so I’m fine with that. If i take anything from Cronenberg, it is his approach to intelligent, thoughtful horror. He is able to bring dramatic weight, great performances, craft, depth and much more to the horror genre and that is something I’m interested in doing as well.
SB: You currently have an active Kickstarter for your project HEIR, featuring Bill Oberst and Robert Nolan. Tell us a little about the film, and what prompted you to turn to crowd-funding to bring it to life.
RP: HEIR is hopefully going to be the culmination of all of my learning and growth as a filmmaker to date. It is a dark and thought provoking moral tale with a horrific twist and something genuinely new in the genre. We decided to turn to Kickstarter because we thought the challenge of crowd funding would be one we could learn and grow from and without a doubt it has been. The experience of crowd funding has changed the way I view my own material and how it is perceived by world. Kickstarter is a great way to test an idea, to gauge reaction and what I’ve learned will be applied to my filmmaking endeavors for the rest of my life.
SB: How do the two of you feel about crowd-funding in general? I know some of the independent directors I speak to have felt rather cynical about Hollywood productions overtaking Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns.
RP: I think crowd funding is an exciting and powerful tool and for anyone to casually dismiss it is unfair and short sighted. If a group of people are willing to launch a project and offer great incentives for financial participation they deserve that opportunity. Running a campaign is hard work, anyone who has been successful or not in the attempt knows this. Now that we have run a successful campaign it’s hard to get me to condemn the process. If you have something to offer, aren’t afraid of some hard work and are willing to risk the chance of failure, you should take a shot at it. Like anything worthwhile, its difficult and time consuming but also affirming and wholly satisfying in the end.
SB: For those looking to check out your work, or contribute to the HEIR Kickstarter campaign, what’s the best way to do so?
ZG: The best way to do so, would be by going to, www.kickstarter.com and search for “FATAL PICTURES HEIR” or “FATAL PICTURES” or just “HEIR”. Also, I am extremely proud, honored, and excited to announce that HEIR campaign has been 100% funded on Kickstarter! Although, there are still 3 more days left and we are trying to raise as much as we can on top of the $17,000 to bring you an alternate ending. Richard has been thinking of some pretty sick and nutty alternate endings that would still absolutely compliment the film. Please feel free to help us deliver the goods!
HEIR on Kickstarter:
SB: Anything else we should be on the look for from FATAL PICTURES in the future? Is the idea to continue to focus on short films, or should we expect a feature in the future?
ZG: HEIR is slated to be Fatal Picture’s final short film, before we step into the world of feature films, which is where we feel we belong. Our feature film debut will be based off of the character Geoffrey Oswald Dodd from the critically acclaimed, award winning film WORM.
SB: Finally, what advice would the two of you have for a young or inexperienced director looking to tackle his or her first film?
RP: I’d say find a few like minded people who care more about making a good film than getting a pay-day. You need to be willing to starve and scrape by in the begging and invest in yourself. If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself, why should anyone else? Also, find a few real pros to learn from, attach them to your project if possible. Make deals to get some really talented cast and crew, they will elevate you and your film.
SB: Thanks, Richard and Zach. HEIR looks like it’s going to be something very, very special.
ZG: Thank you so much for your time to let myself and Richard answer a few of your questions we really appreciate your support and interest in FATAL PICTURES. It was an absolute pleasure. Your support means a lot to us!
Be on the lookout for “HEIR”, coming 2014.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016