Filmamker Hugo Fernandez is at the forefront of a new frontier in delivering quality entertainment to lovers of horror. He is not only an established feature film director (“Erza: Fear Of a Faceless God”) he’s also one of the founders of Horrorx.tv, a new website devoted to bringing original, first rate horror entertainment to all of us online. He was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about his career & his plans for the future of Horrorx.tv.
HN: Let’s start with an obvious question: How did you get your start in making films?
HF: My interest in making films started way back but it really started with writing. The medium of film just enticed me more because I’d be writing for a bigger audience. I’ve always been into music as well but screenwriting was where I wanted to make my mark.
HN: What college did you attend?
HF: Queens college. After I graduated I studied with Philip Frank Messina who’s like a mentor to me. He’s a professor at U.C.L.A right now.
HN: You call him your “Mentor”. Are you still studying with him?
HF: Actually I’ve never worked with him! He’s been my “Mentor” in the sense that he’s always read my material. He’s been coaching me & my writing for years. He has a film project coming up this Summer but it’s all tentative and he wants me to be a part of it although I have no idea what plans he has for me at the moment. He’s a really talented writer though, one of the best. You might know him from a film he helped write called “Brainstorm”(1983).
HN: The Film with Christopher Walken & Natalie Wood? I’m a big fan of that movie! One of the few films that Douglas Trumbull directed.
HF: Exactly! He also directed a comedy called “With Friends Like These” back in 1998. Honestly he’s been out of step with the whole “Hollywood” machine for a while since “With Friends Like These” didn’t perform well at the box office. But as a writer he’s second to none! His writing partner is Bruce Joel Rubin who wrote “Ghost”. He once told me a story about how “Brainstorm” came about, apparently the first draft was written by Rubin but the studio wasn’t happy with it so Philip was drafted to tighten the script up a bit. Rubin was upset over this development but that disappointment led to him writing the script for “Ghost”, and he was nominated for an Oscar for that!
HN: It must be nice to have a great connection like Messina. You must know a lot of people now…
HF: The thing is he’s never really helped me as far as business is concerned. A lot of his connections are “Old School” and I’ve had to make my own way in that regard. But he has helped me in the best way possible…he read my crappy screenplays! Back in the day when I was writing completely generic garbage he took out the time to read them. I learned so much from him. He always saw something in my work, the structure wasn’t there in my earlier scripts but the dialog was good and he pointed that out to me. He actually HATED my first movie!
HN: That would be “Erza: Fear Of A Faceless God”?
HF: Correct. When I wrote it, I did what a lot of newbie writers would do & wrote an epic script. Most scripts come in at 90-100 pages but for “Erza” I had a script that was 200 pages long! A movie I would never get to do! Of course I found out soon afterwards that there was no way I could make it the way I wrote it. So it went through a lot of drafts. The strange thing is that although I was very confident as a screenwriter, I knew absolutely nothing about directing. I didn’t go to film school. I knew all about film structure as far as storytelling goes but nothing more than that.
So I hooked up with a director named Pablo Chirinos who had more film school experience. Since I had never been on a film set before I was nervous about not knowing the proper protocol to use while directing a film & I didn’t want to mess things up. So we decided to co-direct which was an experience I learned from but I still feel like a lot of things went in a direction that I didn’t care for. Once we had the film in post I decided to change the entire direction of the movie, I decided to take it in a more abstract direction….more surreal. I reworked to where it’s more like a film a serial killer would make, from a serial killer’s point of view if you will. It’s focused more on torture p*rn victimization not trying to follow an arc with the main protagonist or anything like that. I decided to go completely avant garde, it’s not mainstream at all. It’s completely screwy from a very twisted perspective.
HN: Is the movie available in any form as of yet?
HF: Yes! It’s on Netflix & you can watch it on YouTube as well.
HN: OK, you’ve told us about the making of the movie. Can you tell us what “Erza” is about?
HF: It follows a character named Gavin who finds out that his dad is something of a twisted sadist. He learns of this from some archives that he’s found and he’s the only person who knows this. He continues to try to learn more about his father and ends up travelling to Hungary where he finds this sociopathic girl who was aware of his dad. The girl’s name is Erza & she lives in a kind of an old school communist style institution. I drew on Elizabeth Bathory & her background when I was writing the script & trying to figure out what Erza would be like. I modeled the father on a serial killer I had read about who used the internet to get victims. Actually there was a lot of controversy about that because the movie came out during the “Long Island Serial Killer” spree and people were postulating that the actual killer was getting inspiration from my film! I thought this was great because it just meant more publicity for the movie!
HN: There is no such thing as bad publicity!
HF: Exactly! Oddly enough, a lot of things seemed to correlate. The actual murders were taking place on Long Island & we made our movie there. There was a child victim & we have a child victim in our film. There were allusions to a serial killer cult & we allude to that in our film as well. Little things like that but there was no intention on my part to ape actual events. The entire film is more of a homage to serial killers actually. You’ll see that when you see the film.
HN: Let’s talk a bit about Horrorx.tv now. This is your company? You founded it?
HF: Actually it’s me & 3 other partners. David Rosario, Jake Ronaldo & Stephanie Rodriguez. The business model for that is actually what I’m most excited about. I really like the idea of advertising for entertainment and I want to create an internet model that is committed to the horror genre. We were talking about it one day & I realized that other than Fearnet I didn’t really see a lot of that. I thought that the idea could grow & progress into something really big especially since the internet will eventually be on par with cable TV in the future. Everything will be integrated.
HN: How long has the company been around?
HF: We’re very new! I would say since last Summer.
HN: And how is it working out so far?
HF: So far what’s been great about it is that in our first 3 days we got a Google ranking of three which was pretty cool. What’s been hard is to systematically get all the promotion going at the same time. We’ve run Google TV ad’s & the obvious Adworks campaign. We went on hiatus for about a month because we ran out of material but the next episode of “Inzombnia” debuts soon so the whole machine will start up again.
HN: Nice way to set up my next question! Who thought up “Inzombnia”?
HF: That was my idea. What’s really different about horrorx.tv is we’re trying to cater to an audience & understanding what really works in the horror genre. For instance, teen girls have the “Twilight” series of films which they flock to. I wanted to create something that catered to teen boys. Even though the teen audience will always gravitate towards horror, the demographic is there for that. I wanted something that actually had teens as the main protagonists & I wanted it seen from a male point of view. Basically I wanted to put a group of teens in a zombie film! “The Walking Dead” might have a teen or two as part of an ensemble but I wanted to eliminate any adults as main characters in “Inzombnia”. I wanted “The Breakfast Club” with zombies in it!
HN: You’ve succeeded! The first three episodes are very compelling. How much does an episode cost to make?
HF: Oh man! Really cheap!! I’ve been lucky that everyone who has worked on it has been doing it from their time in between movies. Both my DP’s are grads looking to make reels (For experience & to promote themselves). Everybody working on the project is looking to make reel. I have my regular DP’s that I used for “Erza” but they’re looking to get paid at this point so what I had to do was recruit the best of the best that want to work with the equipment that we have. I have access to HD cameras & equipment, so there are always people who want to work with this stuff. We get them out of college so they’re excited to work on something. Based on all that I would say each episode runs a few hundred dollars or so.
HN: Really? They actually look much more expensive..
HF: Well I have a few advantages in my favor. I’ve worked in a post production studio for years because of the music. So anything having to deal with sound or editing is free. I don’t have to pay for it because it’s all there for me where I work. I just have to take the time out in the evenings to bust my ass and make it all happen.
HN: How many episodes of “Inzombnia” are planned in total?
HF: Altogether we’re planning a 20 episode series.
HN: And how long do you think that will take to complete?
HF: To be honest, since we had this little hiatus and I was really against the hiatus in the first place because it would be so much easier to cycle traffic when it’s continuous. We don’t want to lose the people’s interest. From this point we’re going to try to commit to a new episode every two weeks and try to have five episodes available at all times. We just finished three of them & hopefully we’ll have five done soon. Those five will stay in place as we’re making the next five & so on.
HN: Do you have the entire arc mapped out from beginning to end?
HF: Yes! We have an arc & there is an outline but the dialog isn’t written out & it gets rewritten all of the time.
HN: I noticed there was little to no dialog in the first three episodes.
HF: This was done on purpose. We realized that the international market gets turned off by the English language in dramas & comedies but they eat it up in action & horror films. So we wanted to keep it action driven but we knew that by the third episode we had to get into some story.
HN: Yes, the third episode has a lot of dialog in it actually.
HF: We’ll be having more dialog in the future & we’re working on integrating subtitles (In different languages) into it as well to make it easier for foreigners to follow.
HN: All of the filming takes place in Long Island, correct?
HF: Yes. Exclusively in Long Island.
HN: Exactly where in Long Island are you filming?
HF: One location is actually a clothing store here in Huntington Station.
HN: How hard was it to get the owners of the store to give you permission to film there? Or was it hard at all?
HF: It wasn’t too hard once we proved to them that we had complete confidence in what we were doing. During the first shoot I was extremely careful to make sure that none of the clothes got blood on them. That was the biggest worry but of course we did get blood on certain items & we paid for those items afterwards.
HN: There is a lot of digital blood tossed about in “Inzombnia”. Was this because of the nature of the location & you not wanting to ruin any clothing in the store?
HF: Not really. I wanted to use the digital blood since we could do so much more with it as opposed to using fake blood which gets all over the place and cannot be controlled. We can put digital blood where we like.
HN: Isn’t it more expensive to use digital blood effects though?
HF: There’s all kind of ways to get blood! Independents have their own blood mixtures with corn syrup, chocolate syrup, etc. I’ve used it on a few occasions but I feel that it wastes more time than it’s worth. Plus theatrical blood coagulates & gets impossible to clean up after a while. I think a gallon of it costs $40 or so. We did use some for the zombies though, on their faces and hands.
HN: All of the digital blood I saw was used for bullet hits & things of that nature.
HF: I’ve done work with squibs before & I suppose we might’ve used them again if it was a bit more Hi-Def. We wanted to keep a 70′s kind of vibe & that was hard to get being that we were using HD cameras. We didn’t want it to look too sleek.
HN: What can you tell us about the two female leads in the series?
HF: One of them is a first time actress named Michelle Knox. She’s actually a promoter out here in Long Island in the rock community and I always had her in mind for the part, I just didn’t know if she could act. She auditioned & she was one of the best we saw. Coincidentally, I’ve noticed that singers tend to be good actors. It’s not a rule of thumb but strangely enough in all of the projects I’ve worked on I’ve gotten the best auditions from singers. A lot of singers seem to be able to transform the act of singing into acting very easily.
HN: I never thought of that before. I think you’re right!
HF: To be honest, I have no theory to espouse regarding it. There is no science involved either. I just happened to notice that singers make great actors for some reason. And Michelle is a great actress! She just nailed it.
HN: Did you audition a lot of actors?
HF: Yes we did actually. We auditioned a slew of actresses and it was hard because we wanted someone who was soft & feminine but at the same time she needed to be strong enough to look convincing when holding a gun. I feel like it’s been portrayed in so many different ways, like the “Dumb Blonde with a Gun” or the “Uber Tough chick with muscles” like Linda Hamilton in the “Terminator” films. I didn’t want to re-interpret the role, I just wanted a young girl who was lethal with a gun.
HN: And the other actress?
HF: Her name is Emily Drooby. She’s more of a professional actress who’s done commercials & such and she’s perfect for the role. The quintessential actress!
HN: Whose idea was it to have some of the zombies run about on all fours rather than standing on their two feet?
HF: That was thought out that way because we wanted to explore & invert some of the usual characteristics of zombies. What if they were animals? What if they were a new species that was only looking to preserve themselves? I wanted to interpret them as having some kind of learned behavior, something like the “Bub” character from “Day Of The Dead” but not quite as intelligent. I wanted them to have the instincts to know when/how to hide. They’ve figured out that congregating out in the open is a bad thing because they get shot. I wanted them to stay low to the ground because they figured out that it was a more effective way to sneak up on humans and avoid bullets as well. I’m assuming that if zombies did exist, these are things that they would figure out eventually.
HN: I found it fascinating because when I first saw it I wondered if you were making it a kind of an “Evolutionary” thing. They start on all fours and then graduate to walking on two legs before they learn to run, etc…I never saw zombies portrayed this way before & I wondered why it hadn’t been thought of before. It works really well. So we can watch “Inzombnia” on Horrorx.tv & on YouTube correct?
HF: Yes. All four episodes are ready to watch. It’s officially on Horrorx.tv but streaming on YouTube as well.
HN: Why “Horrorx”? What does the “X” stand for?
HF: Ummmm, Nothing!(Laughing). When we were trying to come up with a domain name we wanted something that would be simple yet provocative. “X” is always provocative!
HN: What are the long term goals for Horrorx.tv? Where do you want to take it?
HF: We have very definitive goals for Horrorx.tv. We want to have different programming for every day of the week, more web based series. We want to get more sponsors involved as well. Currently we have ten of them signed up. It’s not a lot but it’s a good enough start. I think that a lot of the people who are behind the horror based networks are people who aren’t fans of the genre. They believe that horror fans will just accept a lot of bad horror films because that’s all there is. And they’re right most of the time actually although every 3rd or 4th film they put on their networks isn’t too bad. At Horrorx.tv we’re looking to buck that trend. Whether you like what’s being offered at Horrorx.tv or not, it’s all going to be original visions from filmmakers who love the genre. Not some film that’s been on a shelf for 3-5 years that a studio decides to release because there’s nothing else.
HN: Those are some very heady words you just spoke! I’m suitably impressed by your candor & I hope you’re successful!
HF: I hope so too!
The first four episodes of “Inzombnia” are available for viewing right now on Horrorx.tv and on YouTube. “Erza: Fear Of A Faceless God” is currently available for viewing on Youtube as well as being a “Saved” feature on Netflix. Do yourselves (& the Horror genre) a favor and tune in to Horrorx.tv immediately & catch up with “Inzombnia”. What Hugo & company are attempting to create is nothing short of groundbreaking & dare I say it….visionary! They’ve earned my support and I’m imploring you to check out Horrorx.tv immediately! What are you waiting for?
Interview: Hugo Fernandez (Horrorx.tv, Erza: Fear Of A Faceless God, Inzombnia)