Well, I’ve always been an entertainer. From an early age I was always into entertaining people with whatever method I could find. When I was younger I drew alot, and that got people’s attentions. Later on I go really into music, and spent several years in touring bands trying to make a name for myself. I also delved in the wide world of professional wrestling for a few years, and had alot of fun with that. After that I got the acting buzz, and went to an audition or two, and didn’t really get anywhere to start with. I wound up getting burned by a director on an indie horror picture, who promised me a role with a ton of screen time, but gave me incorrect scheduling info so I never made it to my shoot dates, and was given some ridiculous excuse as to why. It put a bad taste in my mouth for a while, but I don’t give up that easily. A few months later I found out about a Hollywood film being shot about 5 minutes from where I live. Living in small town Georgia, you don’t see many film productions come this far South. It turned out to be the remake of George Romero’s “The Crazies”. I did some google searches, and got info on casting, and wound up being an extra in the famous “Did Peter Call?” scene. I appear as the first soldier lying on the ground that the “Lone Woman” says this to. But, that wasn’t even the best part. I got to see how a Hollywood movie works, and how everything is organized and put together. Lets just say I REALLY got the buzz after that. I did several more films doing extra work, always watching the crew and cast work. Eventually I got the idea in my head to make my own films. I wanted to be able to do it closer to home, and have a bigger “role” in the production. So, I set out to start my first feature length screenplay, which would wind up being “EXIT 101”.
We’ve become somewhat of a family. All of the crew members who worked on my first film are mostly back this time around. Many of them have poured hours of time, and hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own hard earned money into my projects. They will never know just how much I appreciate each and every one of them. I’ve made some life long friends in the industry so far and I hope for that trend to continue. We’ve all learned a lot about the film industry, and the direction its headed in and what we need to do in order to try to stay on top of things. Some of my lesser experienced crew members are really starting to grasp what its all about and are all doing a great job. Hopefully, in 10 years you’ll be watching one of your films in a cinema near you. I know thats “every filmmaker’s goal”, but if your gonna have a goal why not set it as high as you can? We have smaller goals to achieve before we get to that point, but I think the state of “HOLLYWOOD” as it is right now is begging for something fresh. I know I can’t be the only one sick of remake after remake. I still intend to be making horror films in 10 years for sure.
Where did you learn the craft of producer/director/writer/actor?
Everything I’ve done so far has been “work experience”. I haven’t been to film school, nor have I taken any classes. I’ve gotten all of my experience and knowledge from getting hands on experience in the field. Either on hollywood sets, or indie films. I think classes and school can be a great tool to learn and mold your skills the right way, but nothing beats actually being in the fray and getting your hands dirty. I’ve worked on several features, commercials, and music video shoots and I’ve never stepped foot in a film school classroom. I enjoy behind behind the camera as much as I do being in front of it, and if I felt like pursuing more formal training in any of those areas, it would have to be acting. There’s just some things you need help with. Writing is something I’ve done since I was younger. I always excelled at writing and literature in school, and I guess that’s transferred well into screen writing. I was always writing off the wall stuff in class as many of my teachers would tell you. So the old saying “you’ll never use anything you learned in school”, isn’t exactly true because its certainly come in handy.
What directors and/or movies inspire you creativity?
In the horror genre at least, I really admire John Carpenter. He was responsible for one of the most influential horror films of my child hood that scared the crud out of me as a kid. I really liked how he made something so compelling, with so little resources. He used what was available to him and made the most of it. Taking advantage of what resources you have at hand is something every indie film maker should embrace. Your not going to be able to write the next Michael Bay film, and shoot it with 10 grand.. but you can use what you have to create a strong and interesting story that will interest viewers. As far as movies go, any horror movies from the 80s or 90s is on the top of my list, because horror was still sort of a mystery then. More was left to the imagination. Now, everything is so in your face that people have become desensitized to it, and its really hard to scare people without going super “realistic”. Anyone who knows me personally, knows my two favorite films of all time. One of them being “The Crow” with the late Brandon Lee, and my all time favorite film.. Ghostbusters! I just love everything about both of those movies for completely different reasons.
What IS your approach to making films?
I’d be considered a semi run and gun type film maker. I like to move fast, and get things done. I do like to be prepared for everything, but I don’t like to sit there and meticulously plan out every single key detail. I like to leave room for experimentation on set. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever gotten, was when we weren’t even trying. Sometimes you can over think shots and it will come out looking that way. I like to network and meet as many people interested in what I’m doing as possible. And I also like to get the word out about my films to as many people who will listen. I see alot of film makers making films, that never get seen outside of a bedroom or a small film festival. I want the masses to watch my stuff. I utilize every social media outlet at my disposal to do that as well. What’s the point of making a movie no one will ever see? The other thing I try to do that I think is HUGE, is writing around what you have. As an independent on a strict budget, we can’t just “build a set” or “blow something up”. We have to mold the story around things we know we can get access to, and use it to its advantage. I see too many film makers trying to write scripts for films that you’d need a Hollywood budget to shoot, but still attempt to do it on now money. It just looks cheap when you do that.
How can a low budget independent movie thrive in today’s economy?
For me the answer to that question is by finding your market and sticking with it. Figure out who your target audience is, and cater your product to them. The wider your audience the better. Make movies with compelling stories because as an indie, you can’t rely on A list actors or BIG special effects. You have to sell them on the story, and that’s biggest challenge. The good thing is, there’s plenty of opportunity to cash in on a great story, you just have to find the right one and pitch it to the right people. In today’s economy, you have to learn how the industry is changing and get on board with it instead of trying to fight it. Hard media is becoming a thing of the past, and services like netflix and redbox are becoming what people are used to.We just have to use it to our advantage, because now more than ever we have more means to get our work seen outside of submitting to film festivals. We just have to utilize it.
I’m sure you gained a lot of experience making EXIT 101, what did you
learn NOT to do?
I learned that making feature films is hard work. A lot of people still sort of scoff at me when I tell them I make movies, like its some easy task. You try spending all your spare time organizing people, writing up documents, constantly making phone calls, and then spending 12-16 hour days on a set when its hot some days, and freezing cold the next and tell me its not hard work. As far as what I learned not to do? I learned that sometimes you have to make tough choices to get the job done, and when your working with a lot of people are volunteering their time to help YOU! I learned to make sure I treat them with respect and not take them for granted.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while making EXIT 101?
The biggest challenge was keeping everyone happy, but still being strict on certain issues. This area is deep in the South, and so things like this are a spectacle for most of the locals. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because you get tons of support from the community. Bad, because sometimes the people who are giving you the most support are also the ones causing you the most problems. I had issues with too many people showing up to set thinking it was time to have a party. I had to be the bad guy a few times in order to get the point across that this is business for me, and you wouldn’t show up to your 9-5 hammered, so don’t do it here either. There’s a time and a place most definitely, working on a feature film set.. is definitely NOT one of those times. The other challenge was working with people who had 0 experience on a movie set, and trying to mold them into valuable crew members, which I feel we were fairly successful at.
Are there any new challenges making “The Legend of Seven Toe Maggie” that
you did encounter during EXIT 101?
Not so far. Everything about this movie is better than the last. Not to say EXIT 101 wasn’t great. I’m very proud of what we were able to make with the resources we had. But, the production value is higher this time around, the acting is more consistent, and to me the story is much stronger and more dramatic.
What can your Horrornews.net friends expect from “The Legend of Seven Toe
Anyone who has seen EXIT 101, will be in for a surprise. We’ve taken a complete 180, from the “campy” nature of EXIT 101 to a more dark and gritty type of film. The intention of EXIT 101 was to gross you out and give you a few laughs with your friends. 7TM is intended to frighten the viewer in any way we can. Our idea is to take this new “found footage” craze, and toss out the found part.. and create an immersive fully narrative feature film using those same types of scares without all the shaky home video footage.
Interview: Joseph Lavender (Exit 101, Seven Toe Maggie)