If I told you that the director of the 2005 award winning short film PING PONG CHAMPION: GRASS COURT was going to make a solid horror film, you may have punched me in the mush. If I told you that the same director also made the 2007 MTV Movie Award nominated TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL, you may still have punched me in the mush but would have also bought this cat making a horror film.
Paul Morrell is the man responsible for the above work. His new film is FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST, a very well executed horror film that features A villain I want to see more of. Not that this is a measure of the film’s success, but it took in more last weekend than the limited release of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. People are finding this film, so should you.
We like to start in the spot with all our guests whether you’re Bill Lustig or busting out your first feature: What was the first film you saw that made an impact on you and why?
ET was actually the first film that I can remember really being affected by. I was 7, and I can vividly remember walking out of the theater holding my dad’s hand walking to the car…. trying to keep my dad from knowing that I had been crying.
What was that experience like?
It was rad. The damn thing rocked me. It was the first time I remember seeing a movie and forgetting about anything other than what was in front of me for those 2 hours. We didn’t have hours and hours of TV when I was a kid. Movies were our only escape. I have 2 kids, and the little dudes are all about TV…. it wasn’t like that 30 years ago. We played in the dirt… and when I saw a movie… it was like my imagination was coming to life in front of me… Goonies, ET, Stand by Me, Karate Kid, Back to the Future, Gremlins… all of it rocked my world…. Hours and hours of magic.
What kind of films did you dig growing up?
I am 100% an 80’s Amblin fan. Back to the Future 1 & 2 were hands down my favorite movies. Again, escaping to a world that is imagined… is quite an experience. Never did drugs…. so I guess that was my drug.
When did you decide to go into film?
You know, I am a bit of the oddball in this. I actually was a music major all through college, until my last few semesters when I realized I completely sucked at it…. and switched to AV Production. I had made little music videos and things when I was younger with dad’s video camera, but never really thought about doing it for a living. That last 2 years in college though, I discovered my real passion. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the film/ tv biz… but I knew I wanted to do it. My professor told me that I had a real knack for editing and that if I wanted to direct, I could edit and make a living while honing my craft and pursuing directing. All while my counterparts were trying to direct and waiting tables to pay the bills…. It was incredible advice. I have made a really good income editing… I haven’t looked back since.
Where was your first paying gig in the industry?
My first paying gig was at a production company in Nashville called Stephen Yake Productions. (http://www.yakefilms.com/). Steve gave me the chance of a lifetime. While he wasn’t paying me much, the opportunities he gave me far outweighed the paycheck…. or lack there of. Steve let me edit, do motion graphics, tag along with directors, and learn. I feel that I benefited more from following around these guys, getting paid nothing than if I had taken an internship in a larger company in a mail room. Hands on experience is way more valuable. There was an in-house director there : Mike Ashcraft (Thumbin.com) that really took extra time to harass me, drive me and ultimately made me a better director / editor. The editors would allow me sit in. The boss would let me stay late at night and learn the systems…. I was already passionate about the art form… this was what made me passionate about the work.
I know you had some experience cutting trailers, can you talk a little about that? What films you worked on, what that taught you?
I was taught to not take no for an answer. I moved to LA from Nashville, January 8, 2000. I was determined to get a job. I had nothing on my reel other than some music videos and some syndicated TV that I was nothing more than a Production Assistant on. I saw an ad in the Hollywood Reporter for a trailer editor. I had zero trailer experience, so I recorded Saturday Morning TV – TNBC (Saved by the bell, Hang time, and a few others I can’t remember) on a VHS tape and with the help of a close friend (Mark T. Williams – Ah2music.com) I cut together a promo for TNBC. I walked into an interview on Tuesday with that as the only thing on my reel and on Thursday I was working on the Erin Brockovich Trailer. We also did Men In Black 2, Me Myself and Irene, Hollowman and a few more. I can’t take creative credit. I was doing clean up, titles, and some other boring work…. but I was working.
What was the first thing you shot as director?
I have to share the credit with Mike Norman, but in college, we made an instructional YoYo video that was called Generation Yo. We sold 3500 copies out of the back of my car. We made the video for $55 and sold them for $20 a pop. Not too bad for a college project. As for narrative, my first was a short called Pressure. It won nothing, went no-where, but it was mine.
How did you get involved with FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST?
I responded to an ad on Mandy.com
The producer Armont Casalle was looking for a director. It was months of conversations back and forth before I was selected to direct. But once I was chosen, we dove right in…. 2 months later we had wrapped production.
I know the production was already kind of set when you arrived, were there any changes you had to make to get the production moving?
Yes, I had Armont rewrite most of the film to fit the budget. We would have never completed the film on what he originally wrote. We didn’t have the locations nor the crew to pull it off with the money on hand. We reworked the villains lair and took him underground so we could use a warehouse I already had access to. We simplified some of the kills and leaned more on stunts as our producer Terry James is a world renowned stunt guy… and pulled some pretty large favors for us.
Did you make any decision on casting or was that locked in?
Yes, fortunately I got to participate in all of the casting. A few of the roles were already set, but 90% of it, I got to chime in. Of course, the money guy always gets final approval! But they let me weigh in on most of it. In fact there were 2 roles that were added after casting, because the actresses impressed me so much I pushed to give them a part.
Terry James, who is a pretty prolific stunt coordinator, is listed as producer on the film. What kind of experience did he bring to the set?
We could not have made this film without Terry James. Terry brought in John Nasby (former propmaster for MGM) – Johnny did all the production design, the props, and the dude was there from start to finish. He also connected us with Mike Muscarella (part of Clint Eastwoods team) who helped us concept the underground lair…. and it was his brilliance that came up with the pallets idea. We built that entire set in a warehouse for $1200. Terry also connected us with Steve Riley (Super 8, Spider-man, Million Dollar Baby & Gran Torino) for Special FX. His team hooked it up with the blood and FX. And most importantly, Terry brought us the stunts. The coordinator, the players, the rigging, the wires, the fights, the trampolines, the pads, all of it. This was the Terry James show. He made me look really flipping good.
Talk about the use of sets and space in this film and how you made the pallets work for you.
The film was originally written to take place all outside at night. We didn’t have the budget to shoot for 2 weeks in the dark. I had access to a warehouse, so we went for that. Armont reworked the story a bit to take place in an underground bunker. Mike Muscarella was brought in by Terry to help us figure it out. (Mike at the time was in the middle of rebuilding the backlot at Universal after the fire…. so we were honored he gave us some time and energy… he met us for breakfast and came to look at the warehouse.) I had wanted to build an underground bunker that was made of concrete, with a lit up floor… He quickly told us we didn’t have the budget to build that set. But what he came up with… was something he had done for Tales From The Crypt back in the day. He suggested we use pallets. It was brilliant. Pallets were free. We could build 1 hallway and shoot it in several directions and use it for the entire film. We changed the lights from scene to scene so that the pallets created different patterns of light shining thru…. and we shot most of the film in the single hallway. The kill room was actually from an infomercial set that the owner just wanted to get rid of. We trashed it, painted the walls to make it more dungeon like… and that was how we built the set.
What were some of the roadblocks you hit as director on the film and how did you overcome them?
Budget was the biggest road block. Other than that… Over the 2 week shoot, we lost 2 actresses mid day. I was forced to rewrite the scenes so we could finish our day. In one situation in particular, Diana Quezada became ill. So ill that she was rushed to the hospital. This was the scene where she was getting proposed to and taken by the villain. I had to rewrite her scene so that we could use a double and overdub her lines in post. We changed the proposal, to Eric practicing the proposal while she was off camera (shot with a double in a wig – Meredith Laine who was playing Kimberly)…. then she is taken by the villain and Eric chases after… I think it worked well.
This is your first jump into the world of horror, how was it directing a film like this?
I grew up watching horror. I would rent the movies…. My dad was a southern baptist minister and I am not sure how we got them past him, but we did…. and my brother and I would watch them every weekend. I love them… I wouldn’t say I am a horror junkie as Armont (the writer) is… but I do love them. So, I would have to say it was an enormous pleasure doing it. I love the blood. I love the FX. It was rewarding in every sense.
This film took in more on opening weekend than Paranormal Activity on its limited release, what’s that like?
Honestly, still a bit numb…. but it feels flipping fantastic.
Is the distributor going to be working a wider release?
I hope so. Let’s get some people calling and requesting it. That way they won’t have a choice!
Did FTAFTD play any festivals?
No, unfortunately not. The producers of the film wanted to go straight to distribution and I am not aware that they even submitted to the festivals. Thankfully it sold pretty quick. I think that was a big mistake. But what do I know.
What’s next on your plate?
I just wrapped a pilot for a show called “America’s Superwoman : Next Action Diva” Girls, Bikinis, Guns…. It was phenomenal. I also have a bloody thriller that is set to go into production in November. Bit bigger budget so I am super excited about it!
Drop some advice for the all the filmmakers out there:
Don’t take no for an answer. Just go out and do it. Stop talking about it. A business card doesn’t make you a director. Make a movie, sell it and when people go watch it… then you are a director. Gear is cheap nowadays…. there are no excuses for not making a film.
Always surround yourself with people that are better at what they do, than you are at what you do. Your project is only going to be as good as the weakest link in the chain. So make certain that you are the weakest link….. that way you are guaranteed to make the best you are capable of…. and the thing will rock.
THIS FILM WAS DISTRIBURTED BY: http://www.braindamagefilms.com/
FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST WEBSITE: http://www.filthtoashes.com/
FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST ON FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Filth-To-Ashes-Flesh-To-Dust/282765655084402?sk=wall
FILTH TO ASHES, FLESH TO DUST ON TWITTER: http://twitter.com/#!/realtvfilms
PAUL MORRELL’S WEBSITE: http://www.sumojack.com
PAUL’S TWITTER HANDLE: @SUMOJACK
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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