I saw an amazing short film at last years NYC Horror Film Festival that was called “BUG CHASER”. No, it isn’t the story of a exterminator running around after insects of all sorts. So what is it about then? The term BUG CHASER (As it’s used in this film) refers to “One who is deliberately having unprotected sex in order to be infected with HIV, particularly if his lover has it”. Director Ian Wolfley’s short film tells the story of a man who (While in the midst of a one night stand) suddenly discovers a strange growth growing on his backside. I cannot remember ever cringing & covering my eyes as much as I did while I watched this film, it’s one hell of a disturbing movie! But it’s also a funny, entertaining film as well and the audience I saw it with had a ball laughing & screaming along with it. Ian took some time to talk with me about his career and what it took to get “BUG CHASER” to the big screen.
HNN: What got you started in film making?
IW: It’s something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I was able to speak. I have a lot of friends who’ve struggled with deciding what they wanted to do but I never had that problem because I always knew. As a kid I would act all the time, I wanted to be an actor. I’ve been told that when I was about 8 years old I discovered the concept of directing & screenwriting and I had always been under the impression that actors just made up their lines as they went along! That’s when I realized that writing and directing was what I wanted to do.
HNN: What did your family think about your career choice?
IW: My family was always very supportive of me. We had one of those gigantic VHS shoulder cameras and since I was able to operate it I would make little movies for them. I even broke off the eyepiece at one point but it didn’t stop me from using the camera.
HNN: Did you ever attend film school?
IW: I did! When I was in high school I applied for a youth documentary workshop and in conjunction with the Sundance Institute I ended up making a documentary and it played at the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival among others. Afterwards I ended up applying to a bunch of film schools and I ended up at the College Of Santa Fe, which is this little liberal arts school in New Mexico. I have a BA in “Moving Image Arts”.
I’ve been making short movies for about ten years now. When I moved to San Francisco I got lucky and I met a group of film makers that called themselves the HIV Story Project and their goal was to make a feature length film comprised of a series of shorts where we got different directors and got them together with someone who had HIV or AIDS or was a caregiver with a compelling story to tell. Then they would collaborate on a short film together. I was actually volunteering for them but I convinced the producer that he should let me help them and I became an associate producer on that project. That’s what got me connected with a circle of independent film makers in San Francisco, that’s how I met the DP (Director Of Photography) that shot my last four shorts and my sound guy as well.
HNN: You mentioned that you’ve used the same DP for your last four productions. Do you prefer to use the same crew each time out?
IW: Yeah, I like to work with the people that I enjoy working with, my producer obviously being one of them. One of my very good friends from high school who was already living here when I arrived. “BUG CHASER” was the first film I decided to try to make on my own after we had finished making the HIV story project which we ended up calling “STILL AROUND” and after I wrote it I needed a producer for it so I asked my high school buddy who is actually a software engineer but is also very practical, He can do all of the stuff that I can’t do and we founded “Anything Is Possible” productions together.
HNN: Is the name of your production company a tribute of sorts to A.I.P. (American International Pictures)?
IW: Good catch! It is one of the things that I really liked about it but it was just a happy coincidence! People tell me that it sounds very optimistic but it’s really meant to go both ways, things can go really well or they can go to shit. It all depends…
HNN: Judging from “BUG CHASER” I would say things are going really well! The day after I had seen it I was telling my daughter about it and once she heard the title she immediately went into a discourse on what “BUG CHASER” actually meant. I had no idea what it meant actually & was wondering why it had that title. After my daughter straightened it all out for me it made perfect sense. I gotta tell you that I just sank in my seat squirming for nearly the entire running time of the film. I had my eyes covered most of the time as well and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible! It’s been a long time since any film got that reaction out of me (& the audience I saw it with as well)! What made you want to make “Bug Chaser” the first film you made by yourself?
IW: One thing I’d like to bookmark, to come back to later, is how learning what a BUG CHASER was changed your perception of what the movie is about…
HNN: Oh boy…the interviewer has become the interviewee! It didn’t change my perception of it at all, if you mean in terms of the sexuality or anything like that. I have no problems with any topic, as long as there aren’t children involved. A horror film is a horror film and we can find horror in every aspect of our lives if we dig deep enough. I would imagine being someone who purposely seeks out men with HIV to catch it is pretty horrible if you look at it from psychological stance. I will say that going out to purposely catch HIV…I just don’t see the logic of that but that just me.
IW: That makes total sense & I totally hear where you’re coming from. I called it Bug Chaser and it seems that most people think it’s literally about a person who’s chasing bugs around. My intention was for the title to be much more allegorical, the rationale of these people is that it’s going to happen anyway so they just want to get it over with. What I was trying to do is play with the idea of risk. Nathan has this horrible fantasy trip & at the end he has the opportunity to continue doing what he’s going to do or as we see it’s possible that it can end very badly. So the question becomes “Is he going to do it or not”? And he still decides to do it. It’s more about the times that we do things that we know are going to end up badly and do it anyway.
HNN: You are right about the title though. Like I said I loved it but I couldn’t put the title together with what the film was all about until my daughter cleared it all up for me.
IW: Did you think a giant bug was gonna come out of his ass?
HNN: [Laughing] That’s what I thought was gonna happen! When I saw the cyst or whatever that thing was growing on his ass I just assumed that since the title was “BUG CHASER” a big bug would climb out of that cyst & he’d end up chasing it around his apartment! I thought it was going to get all slap stick and stuff. How long did it take for you to write it?
IW: It took a couple of months. I had a nightmare in early Oct & I had it all done by January.
HNN: That had to be one hell of a nightmare! How did you go about casting the film? Did you hold open auditions?
IW: I didn’t want to start getting all the pieces together until I was sure I knew who was going to appear in the film. There was someone else who had already committed himself to the role of Nathan and we got everything going. But about a month before we were to start filming he said he couldn’t do it anymore and that actually turned out to be a blessing because my DP knew someone named Joshua Smith who recommended a friend of his who had been in an experimental movie directed by a gay film maker named Travis Matthews. He had made a short called “I Want Your Love” which I had seen a few years ago that featured Brenden (Gregory, star of “BUG CHASER). What was unique about the short was that it featured real sex, it wasn’t a p*rn film but it had hardcore sex scenes in it. So what I learned about Brenden from watching it was that he could act, he looked good onscreen & he had no qualms about being naked. For awhile I thought I was going to have to find real p*rn actors to fill the roles but luckily it never came to that.
HNN: Brenden was really great in the role! Actually everybody was even though there were only a few people in the cast…including yourself! Did you always plan to appear in the film?
IW: Yeah! When I wrote the script I didn’t necessarily write it with me in mind but after I had cast Brenden as Nathan and then found James (Arthur M.) I realized that I wanted to be able to connect with the actors on a different level other than just directing them so I thought that acting in the movie would be a good way to do that.
HNN: What was it like for Brenden (& for you) during the scenes when you both had to interact with the cyst? There had to be moments when neither of you could keep a straight face.
IW: [Laughing] We had a really good time making it but the good times came from how exhausted we were from putting so much effort into everything. We worked from 6PM till 2AM most nights and the first time we worked with the boil was pretty much a case of taking Brenden into the bathroom and telling him to take off his pants! At that point my makeup artist came in and plastered a whole lot of latex up in there. Everybody was a really great sport about it, very professionally. We were also figuring out a lot of stuff as we went along as well and that was fun.
HNN: How long did it take to apply the boil appliance before you could start filming?
IW: As they got bigger each one took more & more time. The first one took about an hour the last one with all of the good stuff on it took a few hours. To actually get Brenden in the room to film certain scenes we had to physically lift him up & carry him into the room so that the application wouldn’t burst. It’s funny that you mentioned thinking that a bug would come out of the cyst because originally I had written that a bug had actually emerged from the boil and he would be chasing it around his apartment but we weren’t able to achieve that particular effect so I pared the script down to where it was less about an actual bug and more about the idea behind it.
HNN: You made the right choice in my opinion, it’s far more intense as it is. It might’ve been too comical with an insect running around. How long did it take to complete filming?
IW: It took three nights total.
HNN: You had written a short article about horror films on WarPutty.com and why you like them so much. Is it safe to say that you’re going to continue making them?
IW: it’s not the only thing that I’m interested in. A lot of my favorite movies are nothing like that…
HNN: Well…what are your favorite movies?
IW: “PAN’S LABYRINTH”, “THE 400 BlOWS”, “EYES WIDE SHUT”. Pretty much anything by Woody Allen or Stanley Kubrick. The horror genre is something that I’d really like to delve deep into because I do tend to enjoy movies that make me uncomfortable. I like films that challenge pre-conceived notions and for me the movies that do that best are horror movies.
HNN: What’s next up for you?
IW: I just finished casting my next film which is about some young, dumb guys who are trying to make a horror film but don’t really know what they’re doing. Inevitably, shit goes wrong & horribly misdirected!
HNN: How has “BUG CHASER” played at other festivals so far?
IW: It has done very well so far, people really seem to enjoy it. I get great pleasure out of seeing horror audiences react to it the way they do.
HNN: I thought the best part of it was that no one in the audience I saw it with was put off despite some of the more intense scenes of a sexual nature that might have gotten a negative reaction from some people. It’s not p*rnographic by any means but there are some pretty intense scenes between Brenden & James as well as a good amount of male nudity. But that didn’t seem to bother anyone at all, we were all there for the thrills and you certainly provided them!
IW: I’m really happy to hear you say that! It was something I was definitely very nervous about. I was very grateful that straight horror audiences could see “BUG CHASER” and still be horrified by it because it is about someone going through an issue that we can all relate to in some degree. That was a huge relief for me & it made me very happy as well. When I made it I wanted to make it as honest as I could from my point of view without letting any of the mainstream rules about full frontal nudity or the amount of what you could show without any of that getting in the way. There will probably always be a gay character in my movies because that’s the world that I know & that makes sense to me.
HNN: Has the fact that you’re gay resulted in any roadblocks to your career in any way?
IW: I can’t say there have been any roadblocks although I can imagine that a few of the programmers for some of the horror film festivals that I submitted “BUG CHASER” to watched it and decided that there was no way that a horror film audience was going to sit still and watch it. I don’t know that that happened but I could certainly see it happening.
Interview: Ian Wolfley – Director (Bug Chaser)