Henrique Couto is an Ohio-based filmmaker who has made a name for himself in independent cinema with his prolific and consistently entertaining films. Since his horror feature Bleeding Through in 2012, Couto has directed in a variety of genres from family comedy (A Bulldog for Christmas) to Western (Calamity Jane’s Revenge) as well as returning to the horror genre (Babysitter Massacre, Haunted House on Sorority Row). Couto’s horror anthology Scarewaves will be released on DVD in October by Camp Motion Pictures, and will be screening in Chicago with Couto and screenwriter John Oak Dalton in person on Saturday, September 12th. Couto spoke to Daily Grindhouse’s Jason Coffman (who will be hosting the Chicago screening) in advance of that event.
Jason Coffman (JC): A few words of introduction, please, for those readers who may not be familiar with you or your work.
Henrique Couto (HC): I’m an independent film producer/director based out of Dayton, Ohio with 12 feature films to my credit that include many genres such as horror, drama, comedy, family, and even Westerns.
JC: How did you come to be a filmmaker? Were you one of those kids who made movies with his parents’ camera, or did you come to it later?
HC: I was obsessed with movies and TV shows at a very young age, the first toy I played with that got me interested was actually an audio tape recorder. I would record skits and radio shows and then listen to them back. We actually didn’t have a camcorder, I begged my mother to get one and eventually she did. From then on I was always recording something and figuring out how I could edit it together. I learned the fundamentals later when I started volunteering at a Cable Access station, they gave me access to editing equipment, cameras, and lots of experienced personnel.
JC: What were your early camcorder films like?
HC: They were very Troma inspired, lots of blood for almost no reason and intentional overacting. They were almost always played for laughs.
JC: Strictly to satisfy my own tech nerd curiosity, what sort of equipment did you use to learn editing with those?
HC: My first editing experience came from plugging my Full Size VHS camcorder into my VCR and making cuts by recording and stopping. It wasn’t very accurate and I would spend hours upon hours in my room trying to put a scene together. When I moved to cable access I was cutting S-VHS deck-to-deck with an Amiga computer for graphics. Both were great experiences in learning to be a better editor.
JC: You’re maybe best known for your horror movies, but you’ve done films in a variety of genres from family Christmas comedy to Westerns. Do you have specific influences (films and/or filmmakers) that have informed your work in different genres?
HC: I’ve never really been able to nail down a favorite genre but my fandom for horror and science fiction is certainly a major part of my life. My grandest influence through and through has been John Hughes. Hughes taught me that stories should be personal and sentimental, if you come from a place of personal truth then audiences identify on that human level. I find that as long as I can find the humanity in a story the genre is just icing on the cake.
JC: That’s interesting, and it makes sense given that one of the reasons Babysitter Massacre really caught my attention was that it not only delivered on the exploitation elements (gallons of blood, plentiful nudity, etc.) but had actual characters. When you are directing a project written by another screenwriter, do you closely collaborate with them to help maintain that same sort of attention to character detail? How much of that do you think also comes from your actor collaborators?
HC: It can really depend, often when I work with a screenwriter I let them run with it and get inspired upon reading the work. I try to take in the script as they wrote it and then boil it down until I find out exactly what I feel is the theme of the piece. Once I know the theme I go back and do some rewrites to make sure that theme rings true in the whole project. That’s usually where I find the soul of the project. It also effects how I direct the actors and what we talk about on set.
JC: You have several actors with whom you regularly collaborate. How did you meet, for example, Erin R. Ryan and Joni Durian? How did you come to work with outside screenwriters like John Oak Dalton (screenwriter of Haunted House on Sorority Row and Scarewaves)?
HC: I’ve met a lot of my crew and cast at screening events or on Facebook. I often put out casting calls online and sometimes you just hit gold. Joni Durian was a complete cold casting call, she came in and was incredible. Erin R. Ryan I had met through a mutual friend that raved about not just her performing skills but also her professionalism and demeanor. When you’re making a movie, how fun someone is to hang out with is easily as important as how well they perform. John Oak Dalton and I had known of each other for a few years but we actually met when he invited me to speak at the Phantoscope film festival. We had a chance to chat a little bit and I knew he was a great scribe so we started talking about it. The rest, as they say, is history.
JC: There are a few prolific independent filmmakers in Ohio right now putting out interesting work. What is it like shooting movies there, and do you have any idea why it seems to be a hotbed of indie film production right now?
HC: I couldn’t completely tell you why Ohio has been breeding indie filmmakers, I don’t think it hurts that the state is a very affordable place to live. I personally love Ohio and particularly Dayton where I call home, there are lots of excited and supportive people that want to see what creations others are drumming up.
JC: So you’ve done A Bulldog for Christmas and Awkward Thanksgiving. Any plans for more holiday-themed features?
HC: Holiday films are must for a big fan of John Hughes such as myself, I would say more Christmas movies are certainly in my future.
JC: Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming projects you’re currently working on, or any other movies you may have coming out on DVD/VOD/etc. in the near future?
HC: I’m about to shoot a secret project in September, Scarewaves comes out October 27th on DVD and VOD. Alone in the Ghost House will be hitting DVD and VOD next year, and Awkward Thanksgiving will be hitting VOD next year as well.
Scarewaves plays at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday, September 12th with Henrique Couto and screenwriter John Oak Dalton in person. For full information, visit the Facebook event page here:https://www.facebook.com/events/1651191138451375/
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