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Interview: Izzy Lee (Boston Underground Film Festival)

LESS THAN 2 WEEKS UNTIL THE BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FEST AS FILMMAKER IZZY LEE RETURNS WITH NEW SHORT FILMS OF TERROR

Thank you Izzy for taking the time to speak with me again about your upcoming shorts that will be part of this year’s BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL (BUFF) at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… will be a part of the short form film block “TRIGGER WARNING” on Friday March 24th and your other short film, RIGHTS OF VENGENCE, is opening for Skip Shea’s TRINITY on Sunday March 26th.

Jay Kay: First, talk about returning to BUFF this year with multiple short films and what it has meant for this platform to showcase not only your film work, but the work of those who collaborate in this community. What does this film festival also mean to the Boston area?

Izzy Lee: The BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL is essential to this area. The city has a few other festivals, but this is the only one that focuses on genre film, and it does that very well. Every year, the festival is better and better. I’m proud to be a part of it. As a former programmer of the festival, I’m doubly, deeply grateful. It feels like home. Boston is a small city, so most of the genre filmmakers here know each other and often collaborate on projects together. It’s a great community where filmmakers work on each other’s projects and help each other as much as we can. I developed a term for us last year and it’s taken off and is used by those in the know #TeamWeirdo.

JK: Izzy, the title TRIGGER WARNING seems to fit you very well; in just about all of your projects, there is an edge. A message, as you really do not care what the hell anyone thinks! You push the story to edge recreating nightmares, bringing a dark reflection on today’s issues, empowering characters, and re-envisioning tropes. It has become a punch to the gut each time we sit and watch your work.

In this go-round of BUFF, both your shorts are very edgy and address sins that the male lead characters feel they can get away with as they exploit women and children. Your work is not for everyone, so why continue with stories like this? What power and emotion do they have and offer to everyone involved? How have you created such empowering characters through this kind of storytelling?

IL: Well, no one’s work is for everyone, unless you want a job at DISNEY. I use the injustices I see in the world as fuel for my work. Someone’s always offended by something, so why should I care? I care more about kids getting abused and women getting stepped on and taken advantage of — why shouldn’t their stories by told? Listen, the world is a horrible place. I just hold up a mirror.

In fascist societies, you’ll see that the first things that happen is that artists and the press are censored, threatened, and erased. This is because we scream against the propaganda machines that no, everything is NOT okay. When you hear that “artists are dangerous people,” they’re talking about people like me who call attention to the fact that things are very wrong in the world. We not only hold up that mirror, but create empathy and compassion between genders, races, and cultures — which keeps fascists from making money off of you and controlling you with fear.

To quote Marilyn Manson, which I don’t often do: “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers.”

JK: For both RIGHTS OF VENGENCE and FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… you have two very different visual stories that unfold through the talents of dedicated crew and with cinematographers Bryan McKay and Jarret Blinkhorn. What did Bryan and Jarret bring to each of these projects that made their ability to capture these stories right for your vision? What do these crews mean to you?

IL: My crews are everything. Without them, I am nothing. I’m not one of those filmmakers that also edit, own a camera and shoot, and also do visual effects. It’s too much, and I think that when you do 100% of everything yourself, the work suffers because you’re pulled in too many directions. I’m already way involved in many of the aspects of filmmaking, as you can see, often writing, directing, producing, and doing light FX. If I can, I also cook for my crew for the wrap parties, because I adore them and I’m so grateful that they’ve followed me into battle yet again.

I was on the Boston Underground team with Bryan, which is how we met. He went to Emerson and has a great eye. He’ll think of a shot that would never occur to me, and kicks ass at editing and color correction — even some VFX! He’s saved my ass on some shoots. We’ve developed a short hand over the years, and I trust him completely. I adore the teasers he makes for me. They’re so f**king amazing.

Jarret is f**king incredible. Bryan moved to LA, so I was hard up for a new DP, and Jarret and I had already been talking about collaborating. I asked him about Rites, he loved it, and so I made it happen. It was the smoothest shoot I’ve ever had, and his energy is contagious. He knows a ridiculous amount about horror films, and so if I reference a shot in HALLOWEEN III or THE EXORCIST III, he knows exactly what I’m talking about. Jarret is also my editor and composer on RITES — his talent knows no bounds, man. In short, both Bryan and Jarret bring the skills I’m missing to the projects. I can’t live without a talented DP. I adore them both.

JK: On both shorts, you are very hands on. In indie filmmaking, you have to be for so many reasons. You write a lot of the work you create but you also work with talented writer Chris Hallock. In this case, FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… was written by him and filmed by you. What has his partnership meant to your work and growth?

IL: Chris is like family. I love his writing. I’ll adapt one of his stories or we’ll collaborate on something together. Writing is a personal thing for me; stories are so important. If I can’t connect, I can’t make the film. Chris is the only one whose stories I’ve adapted so far, because I just can’t trust a lot of people with my films. He also wrote A FAVOR, and we co-wrote POSTPARTUM (he’s currently working on a feature-length version) and a feature-length script together that I’ve been shopping around to producers. It’s been awesome to bounce ideas off someone I trust. I love my team.

 JK: RITES OF VENGENCE has such a tangible and palpable feel that connects with the visual evidence of the insidious act. Talk with me about the props for that short film and how much emotional strength it takes to create items that have been stained with true evil? Also, in the opening sequence of the short, the priest walks back to a room and the focused is blurred. What was the thinking behind that?

IL: Well, it’s because that character of the priest is not the focus of the story, so the visuals reflect that. Props… Well, I borrowed that sports ball blanket from friend and fellow filmmaker Phil Healy’s set, and I got the underwear at Target. I spent a lot of time looking for that, and it kind of made me feel icky. Should I get boys’ or girls’ underwear for that shot? It was hard to avoid registered or licensed cartoon characters, because those are every wear. In the end, I went with a little white pair, because it represents both sexes. It’s actually an extra-small women’s’ pair of underwear, which made me feel less gross buying, but my feelings on that aren’t important to the story.

JK: In FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… we have a different perspective on sexuality from RIGHTS OF VENGENCE. However, both deal with the violation of person’s trust and innocence. When handling the writing, or collaborating, your work seems to fall back on these themes? What makes these themes so compelling to create stories and be one of the architects for the visual storytelling especially again with the props in RIGHTS OF VENGENCE but also the use of modern technology in FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…?

IL: We respond to vengeance or vigilante stories, because they’re socially acceptable — and a good way to not go to jail. These themes let you feel a sense of catharsis within a parable. They’re a safe way to digest the horrors of the world without endangering yourself or others. Horror film is a coping mechanism.

 JK: You have created some truly disturbing and insidious monsters over the years, most are human, most are us. What makes the “human monster” so compelling and the focal point of your character studies and horror storytelling?

IL: While I love a good monster story, we are the true monsters. Humans are f**ked. You never truly know anyone — or how truly dark a person can be. What we do to each other is the scariest thing. Real life will always trump any Gothic or Giallo story for me, no matter how much I enjoy those stories.

JK: Talk about the cast for the two shorts playing at BUFF this year? Was it a bit awkward to cast Diana Porter and Sean Carmichael as lovers when they play brother and sister I believe in TRINITY? Also, Michael Thurber returns as the priest in RIGHTS OF VENGENCE, he was the politician in LEGITMATE, both are evil characters. What makes him such a great character actor and villain?

IL: Haha! Sean and Diana get cast together all the time. They’re committed, professional, and passionate. It was a bit weird for them to be cast as lovers, but they did great. That was only one scene together, which they nailed. My direction to Sean, as he was waiting for her on the bed was, “you’re all entitled and shit.” Normally, I’m not so relaxed with that type of emotional direction, but we all know each other, and I’d been on set with him a few times. I also have a small role in TRINITY. I’m grateful to Sean for playing such a douche bro and for him not hating me for it. He was great. I always feel a little bad when I make someone play an asshole who isn’t — but the stories don’t work without them!

Michael has an angular look that lends itself to the traditional villain type. He also doesn’t give a damn about how horrible the character is, he just wants to act. He has a lot of fun with these roles, and I’m always pleased to have him onset when I have a role that fits him. I was lucky to get him for my first film, LEGITIMATE. I’m happy to have him back four years later to show him how much I’ve grown as a filmmaker.

JK: Finally, how important was sound and score on these shorts? Especially on RIGHTS OF VENGENCE, you have the musical brilliance of the CANON FILMS and hymns crafted to be the voice of a tale with no dialogue. What did each films composer bring to the project?

IL: Like I mentioned previously, Jarret was my composer on RITES. He brings a prolific knowledge of synth-inspired ‘80s horror. I had to lean on his skills heavily, because there’s no dialogue. I wanted to tell the story without saying a word. I think we did that successfully.

My FOR A GOOD TIME composer, Timothy Fife, is enroute to SXSW as we speak, if he’s not there already. He’s an artist with Death Waltz Records. I also met him at Boston Underground. I was lucky to get him when my previous composer Shayne Gryn (POSTPARTUM, A FAVOR, LEGITIMATE, PICKET) was unavailable. Tim brought moody atmosphere to my films. He’s playing live at both SXSW and BUFF this month. He’s really talented; they all are

JK: What’s next for you and where can we find out more?

IL: Nihilnoctem.com and Facebook.com/nihilnoctemfilm are where I live digitally. I have a few scripts, like the one I wrote with Chris, as well as a Joe R. Lansdale adaptation that was scribed by his son Keith, that I’m attempting to get producers interested in working on with me. It’s an uphill battle, but I’m still trying. I’m also getting into writing in other mediums.

My first published short story TILBERIAN HOLIDAY is available in the “Wicked Witches” collection. There are more stories I need to write. I’m also co-writing a short story with Kasey Lansdale (co-star of POSTPARTUM) that I hope will be published in an anthology. I love the Lansdales, if you hadn’t noticed.

See the full lineup at this years
BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL from MARCH 22-26 at
THE BRATTLE THEATRE in Cambridge, MA

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