Interview: Brian Avenet-Bradley (Dark Remains, Ghost of the Needle, Freez’er)

WHO: Brian Avenet-Bradley
MOVIE: Dark Remains, Freez’er, Ghost of the Needle

Writer/ Director:
Dark Remains (2006)
Writer/ Director:
Ghost of the Needle (2003)
Writer/ Director:
Freez’er (2001)

Ahhh the sounds of brilliance fills the room as I sit down to talk with Brian about himself, his career, and his upcoming work. As half of the husband/wife team that created Dark Remains, he sheds a little light into the world of Brian Avenet-Bradley. And let me add he is in my top 3 fav peeps to interview to date! Check out what he had to say:

Dai- What are some of your favorite memories of making movies when you were a kid?

BAB-
It was pure creative filmmaking. I’d gather my friends together, and we’d mix up our gallon of Karo blood on Saturday morning then march out into the woods carrying boxes of props. And then we’d march back at night filthy and covered in the sticky blood. One of my friends, Allan Harrell, actually forged swords, armor and knives and he played an amazing Satan. One day, we had great fun having our composer Mark Lee Fletcher play a hopeless drunk who chases a piece of a paper and gets run over by a truck. We turned an abandoned quarry tunnel into Hell, complete with cow bones and home-made napalm courtesy of Allan. 

The Sheriff showed up and told us we were trespassing and that we needed to leave. But then he just turned around and left us there. I don’t think he wanted to march into a dark tunnel filled with questionable bones and fake blood just to evict some teenagers. Later, a friend of mine told me that after that there were news reports of “Satanic activity” and “sacrifices” at that quarry. It’s amazing what some fake blood and cow bones can set off. 

Dai- What was film school like and where did you go?

BAB-
I went to USC film school, mainly because my parents were set on me going to college and the only thing I was interested in was filmmaking. There was one class I really loved there because you were basically left completely alone to make a short film every three weeks. You had to write it, cast it, direct it, shoot it and edit it. So it felt like I was just continuing what I had done with my friends- that was my favorite class.

Dai- You and your wife Laurence have become partners in making films. So how is the responsibilities divided?

BAB-
We actually first hooked up when I was finishing my unofficial thesis short film after college. Laurence knew what I really wanted to do was direct and write feature films, and she was the one who said- “Great, let’s do it.” With her encouragement, I got to work on the script of “FREEZ’ER.” That film was really a micro-budget. It was about as cheap as you can make a 16mm feature. Officially, Laurence was the producer and the DP / Camera operator- jobs she had already done professionally. And I was the writer, director, and editor. But on such a micro-budget, we wore a lot of different hats, and we collaborated on everything. That collaboration has continued to DARK REMAINS. We’re very in synch on what we want, so we really push each other to make each scene as good as we can. In the big picture- for me, life is making films. So it’s impossible to imagine I could be married to anyone else. She loves Horror films and playing survival Horror games, so I’m a lucky guy.

Dai- Your first release was FREEZ’ER.
Tell us about that first experience of making then releasing it and what went on in your mind.

BAB-
I’ve already touched on this a bit. FREEZ’ER was a micro-budget 16mm film. And it was a grueling shoot. With so little money, we had to shoot it over the course of a year. Except for one two week spurt (vacation time!) the rest of the film was shot on weekends. On Fridays, Laurence would leave her work at the TV station, and I left my job at a film production company, and we’d load up our van with all the equipment and drive 5 hours to my sister’s farm in Tennessee. Then we would shoot all day and most of the night on Saturday and half-a-day Sunday, before we re-loaded the van to drive five hours back and get up to go to work the next day. There was a year of that, and any partnership and marriage that can survive that is doing pretty good. Excluding actors, most of the time we had a crew of three people, including Laurence and myself. And sometimes, it was just Laurence and I for all the P.O.V.s, insert shots, and hand doubling. None of it would have been possible without everything having been storyboarded because the shooting ratio was so low and the shoot so drawn out. Sometimes it felt like it would never end, and the lead actor Barnes Walker III was getting pretty suspicious it wouldn’t. But he was a trooper- he went through hell and toughed it out. It took another year to post, editing on nights and weekends, but as hard as all that was, the distribution process was even more hellish. We had a U.S. distributor who had it booked for Blockbuster, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. It was listed at all those places as coming out, then the company went belly up, and the film wasn’t delivered to any of those stores. In the end, the film wasn’t distributed in the U.S. until AFTER our second film had already come out. Then FREEZ’ER was released as COLD BLOOD. But thanks to foreign sales, everyone got their money back and one of the investors, Kendall Dreyer, invested again in our second film, GHOST OF THE NEEDLE. All in all, it’s one of the filmmaking war stories that are pretty common for most first time independent filmmakers. And considering how it all turned out, I consider ourselves pretty lucky overall.

Dai- What is your worst fear?

BAB-
I’ve got a lot of fears, which is probably why I make Horror films. But there was one particular fear that I drew on the most for DARK REMAINS. After my mom died, I was alone in the family home. And at night, when I had to get up to use the bathroom or get a glass of water, I used to be terrified. I was so scared going through every doorway or around every corner. Because I was convinced I would see my dead mother. And she was going to appear very frightening and angry. This would go on, night after night after night. Every night, I would be convinced that this night, the encounter would happen.

Which made me think, why was I so scared about running into my mother? She was a great, loving mom. Then I realized I wasn’t scared of running into my real mother, but just something that LOOKED LIKE my mother.

It wouldn’t really be her, just a dead flesh casing of all the pain of death. This was the original inspiration for DARK REMAINS- a supernatural Horror film where the main “ghosts” aren’t “ghosts” at all in the traditional sense of the word. They’re not the “souls” or “spirits” of dead people. They have nothing to do with the dead people at all, except they resemble them physically in a horrific way. Instead, they’re the embodiments of all the pain and negative energy of an awful death wrapped up in a decaying human shell. This is what scared me. Because these “ghosts” can’t be appeased. You can’t communicate with them or fix their problems or bury their hidden bones. They don’t want anything- because they’re not a “they.” They’re just this embodiment of the negative events- but they can still affect you in horrific ways.

Dai- You incorporated that fear into your film DARK REMAINS. What was it like making that film?

BAB-
DARK REMAINS was one of the best experiences for me because I had finally raised a little more financing. It was still ultra-low budget by Hollywood standards, but this time I had a shot at getting what I wanted in the film. And we got a lot of help from people who knew our previous micro-budget films and believed in what we were trying to do. The Digital Arts and Entertainment Lab of Georgia State gave us free use of their camera for the shoot, and this was an enormous help. And a lot of people gave us a lot of deals. But even though we had more resources, we set the bar even higher. I really wanted to capture a building atmosphere of dread and fear and for the whole movie to slowly tighten that tension, bit by bit.

So I needed to find the best locations possible, places with a lot of corners, doorways, windows. Lots of places where things could be. To do this, even though the movie is set in one geographic area, we ended up shooting in four different cities in North Georgia to find all the locations. This put a lot of strain on everyone, but the movie needed it. Key locations included: county archives rooms, an isolated rental cabin in the mountains, and a closed prison that supposedly had its own real ghost. With Laurence’s lighting and slow camera dollies, there were endless places where things could be lurking around corners and in the darkness. So hopefully, the audience never knows, just like the characters, when and where the next “ghost” will appear.

Also, my real fear was seeing my dead mother as a very solid, dead ghoul, for want of a better word. So I didn’t want transparent CGI effects or CGI floating forms. It had to be solid and feel very real, like this thing could touch and hurt you. So I needed actors who could play these “ghosts”/ghouls. I was able to cast six actors who were all able to bring a frightening physicality to these things. Initially, the actors wanted to know about the living person they were portraying. But I told them they had absolutely nothing to do with the living person except for the human shell of their body. The hopes/dreams/fears of that living person had absolutely nothing to do with what they were- they were just shells of pain and anger. Once they understood this, they realized they had the ability to do anything they wanted as these “things”- they weren’t constrained at all. And we rehearsed and came up with a set of movements and behavior for each of them that were different. 

Then Toby Sells created some terrific prosthetic make-up for each “ghost”/ghoul, each of them different. Then, in post, Sarah Paul, our Visual Effects Artist, did some superb, subtle work to enhance some things we had shot practically. She did my favorite kind of CGI- the kind you don’t even realize is CGI. When that’s done right, the audience isn’t even aware that anything’s been done in the computer, but it really enhances the overall effect.

The final thing I like to touch on is the sound design. I knew so much of DARK REMAINS was dependent on the sound design, because at night in that family home those slight sounds I heard fueled my fears- every creak, every groan, every snap. So in addition to Benedict Brydern composing a great musical score for the film, Mark Lee Fletcher created endless “soundscapes,” just eerie combinations of sounds with no musicality. With his help, Laurence and I created a very dense sound design, including lots of subtle sound effects. It took a lot of time in post, and in the end, I’m really happy with the 5.1 mix of the film. If you watch it at home at night with the lights low and with the surround on, I feel like DARK REMAINS captures a lot of what I felt during those nights.

Dai- Getting into a interesting part of our conversation, how would you break down the title ‘Horror Genre’ into it’s sub-genres and what do you find yourself drawn to more?

BAB-
Horror is such a great genre because of all its diverse sub-genres, and even sub-genres of sub-genres. It seems like every few years there’s even a new sub-genre that gets coined. I love the fact that Horror covers everything from broad headings like psychological, supernatural and sci-fi to more specific labels like creature features, slashers and living dead films. And of course you have the sub-genres of the sub-genres: sci-fi living dead movies like DAY OF THE DEAD (insinuated virus) or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (military toxic goo), and you have supernatural living dead movies like TO KAKO / EVIL (some “force” really bad in that cavern.) And then to top that off, you have sci-fi living dead/zombie movies where the people aren’t living dead or zombies like 28 DAYS LATER; I’m not even sure if there’s been a sub-genre of the sub-genre created for “not-yet-dead-just-infected, living dead/zombie” movies.

But Romero might have been the first one to sort of do that as well with THE CRAZIES. And then, within all of these sub-genres, you have the tone of the film which completely changes the sub-genre as well. You can have a serious living dead feature like DAY OF THE DEAD or a fun, comedic one like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Really, these “sub-genres” are figured out after the fact; enough Horror films get made and someone says, hey it’s a sub-genre, then so on and so on…. I think Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was considered a zombie film or ghoul film for a long time until enough people realized he had really created his own sub-genre with LIVING DEAD. Let’s face it, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE is NOT what we think of today as a LIVING DEAD or ZOMBIE film. All this is fun to talk or argue about, but for me the sub-genre of the film isn’t what’s important. It’s that it’s just a good Horror film that works for me.

I don’t set out to write Horror films, but inevitably what I write would be classified as Horror. I think that’s because of my sensibilities and the subject matters I’m drawn to, but it’s also because Horror is such a wonderfully broad genre. It covers everything from ROSEMARY’S BABY, to ALIEN, to Friday the 13th Part IV. How can you top that? With a western, you’re stuck with horses and six shooters and Midwest landscapes, etc. But Horror is creatively wide open. You can have a machete or a creature in outer space or a demon child. Beat that! As for what sub-genre I’m drawn to more… Well, I have no problem being “pigeon-holed” as a Horror filmmaker- happy to be!- but don’t pigeon-hole me into a sub-genre of Horror. I don’t want to limit where my ideas take me. Right now, I have three Horror scripts I’m passionate about, all of them different sub-genres, and unlike DARK REMAINS, none of them is supernatural Horror.

Dai- What do you think about the horror industry today and the future outlook for it?

BAB-
Besides working on setting up our films, I try not to think too much about the industry part of Horror. I prefer to focus on the films themselves. There are great Horror films being made today both in the U.S. and around the world. And I think there have always been great Horror films being made and always will be. As long as there are passionate filmmakers who are making Horror films because those are the films they love, we’ll always have great Horror films. Yes, there will always be awful ones too, on every budget level, both studio, foreign and independent. But so what? That goes for all film genres. Most of these bad Horror films are just producers making Horror films to try to “cash in” on the genre. But we don’t have to watch these bad films, and we can focus on discovering all the Horror gems that are out there.

Dai- Who would you like to work with?

BAB-
This would be an impossibly long list. There are so many directors, writers, and producers I admire, and so many actors- as well as other crew people from production designers to sound designers. Film is a very collaborative medium and the more talented and passionate people you can work with, the better the film will be. A lot of the people I would list would be names people probably wouldn’t know right off the bat, but I’ve seen their work and I’m very impressed with what they’ve done and what they’re doing. But I wouldn’t want to jinx it by listing names. Oh what the hell, to geek out for a second on actors- Rutger Hauer, Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Campbell, Christian Bale, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, David Strathaim, Chris Cooper – Stop! Even just doing actors, this will go on forever!

Dai- Whats next for Brian Avenet Bradley?

BAB-
As I touched on a little earlier, I have three Horror scripts I’m passionate about, all of them different Horror sub-genres and budget ranges. I’m working on setting them up right now, and since I want to do them all, whichever comes together first will be the next one. I’m itching to do another one.

Dai- Any last words for me and our readers?

BAB-
I’d just like to say thanks to all the people who have checked out DARK REMAINS and watched it. And thanks to everyone out there who seek out Horror films no matter the budget. That’s what keeps the genre so diverse. Thanks for the interview Dai. It was a lot of fun talking Horror with you and answering the questions!

Thank you so much Brian for taking the time to chat with us! Make sure you check out his film DARK REMAINS and keep an eyes out for his projects to come.

This is Dai signing off and from all of us at horrornews.net…

Interview: Brian Avenet-Bradley (Dark Remains, Ghost of the Needle, Freez’er)

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About Dai Green

DaiDai Green is a contributor to HorrorNews.net. She created the column "Dai of The Dead"

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