The road an independent film must travel is a long and hard one. It could take years for it to find a distributor and once it does, it still must find an audience. It’s been almost a year and a half since I first saw Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas and it finally finds its way to home video on November 19. It’s a fun mix of horror and comedy that pays homage to classic Christmas slashers like Silent Night, Deadly Night with a sensibility all its own. I recently had the opportunity to speak with key members of the cast and will release a series of interviews leading up to the films’ release. The first installment will focus on two terrific talents who both shine in the film. The lovely and talented Summer Ferguson and the hilariously witty Ken MacFarlane. We chatted about their work on the film as well as their background and love of craft services.
Corey Danna: Tell us a little bit about who you are what your aspirations are in life and your career.
Summer Ferguson: I’m torn between two loves, Acting and Education. I have an extensive background in theater and film. I’ve spent countless hours on stage and backstage, in front of the camera, and behind the camera. I like the behind the scenes stuff as much as I like being in the spotlight or in front of the camera. I particularly enjoy stage managing and assistant directing as far as the behind the scenes work goes, and although I adore a leading role, I throw myself as much into a supporting or minor roles as I do a big one. I truly am here for the love of the work, and that means doing everything I can with the role I’m given. I have little tolerance for divas and prima donnas. As for education. I have loved learning and learning about learning for as long as I have loved acting. I started reading books about learning disabilities and how people learn when I was 10. I slogged through books on education tirelessly. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Adolescent Development and a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology. At some point I plan to get my PhD in some area of Education and I am currently working as a Special Education Teacher at an Elementary School in Virginia.
Ken MacFarlane: “Well I am the smartest most ruthless martini drinking bundle of love anyone could want. I desire fame, fortune and world domination.” Oh! Wait that was Jerry talking, sorry about that. Well let’s get back to Ken, I was born in Nova Scotia, but really grew up here in Los Angeles. I’m a direct descendant of one of the original MacFarlane Clan chiefs, don’t know which one yet, his wife isn’t talking. I have no royalty in my blood unless you consider Spanky MacFarlane, a distant cousin, royalty. Oh that was a bit of name dropping wasn’t it. I have always felt like an actor, always wanted to be an actor, so whether I become a household name or not isn’t important as long as I’m on stage or in front of a camera. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked as much as I have and still find each role a challenge and discovery. If I’m not learning something new while performing than I must be doing something wrong. I love a challenge when it comes to acting. I think it must be boring to be in a sitcom with the same joke set up and plot outline every week. Although, I would never say no to being hired for one. Are you listening Crazy Ones?
CD: Can you talk a bit about your acting backgrounds?
KM: It’s actually pretty simple. I graduated from Cal State Northridge Theatre Department. I studied with two amazing acting coaches, Maryellen Clemons at CSUN, and Salome Jens privately. Those two women really gave me my foundation as an actor. Whenever I hit a road block in my acting, I just sit back breath and listen for one of two voices. They gave me the questions to ask. So after college I just sort of auditioned for everything and anything. I believe doing is the best training of all. I did a lot of theatre here in Los Angeles, then some in New York and Vancouver. In the last 10 years I have been very fortunate to have been building my film work.
SF: I’ve been acting as long as I can remember. My siblings and I would put on VERY elaborate plays for my parents. We included costume changes, scripts, soundtracks/musical interludes, a backstage area, scene changes the whole bit. My sister is an actress as well and actually studied theater in college and acted with Second City in Chicago. I remember when I was a child I got the chickenpox right before my first play in Kindergarten, I was totally devastated. I changed schools that summer and I remember the only question I asked when I took the tour of my new school was “do you do plays here?” I spent 12 years on that stage 1-12th grade. I adored every minute and in high school I was a member of the International Thespian Society and performed a monologue and a short play at the Virginia Thespian Society gathering senior year. I was invited to perform my monologue at the International Thespian Society that summer in Iowa but was unable to attend. I moved to LA with my husband shortly after we were married and I started my film career. I played in various independent films and continued my theater career with the South Bay Theater Company, and the Long Beach Shakespeare Company.
CD: So acting is more of a pastime for you or is it something you would consider as a career?
SF: For a time I did pursue acting as a career but for now it’s on the back burner, since I am in Virginia now with a full time education job, but I already have plans to start a theater group at the elementary school I am working in. It should be a fun new chapter!
CD: Ken, is it difficult to work in independent film and try to earn a living?
KM: Well 99% of all Independent films is working for free, even the SAG contract Indies, so you just hope the food is good. Sometimes it’s not, but then you can hit amazing craft services and meals like when I shot The Millennium Bug. The food was amazing on that project. Working to pay the rent, while shooting a film can make for very long days and a pretty full schedule. I have always approached acting for the love of doing it, rather than a pay check. If I waited to be paid I would either be doing very little acting, or in another career.
CD: What can you tell us about your work in upcoming films THE MILENNIUM BUG, THE BLOOD LET, and NOISE MATTERS?
KM: THE MILENNIUM BUG has had some phenomenal success in many film festivals. I got to work with a lot of fun blood and gore make-up, monsters, hillbillies beating the crap out of me, and some amazing actors, not to mention the very talented director Ken Cran. The film is set on January 1st in the mountains of Oregon. We shot the movie on a sound stage in North Hollywood, with no air conditioning, in May and June during an awful heat wave. All of us were sweating so much, the poor make up crew was constantly dabbing and redoing the make-up, not to mention how awful the winter costumes were smelling after a few weeks. But all that aside, I loved every day of working on BUG and did I mention the food was spectacular. NOISE MATTERS was a very interesting shoot, I had only one day of work on that film, and it was an all-night shoot in an empty art gallery. This was a case where the food amounted to a bag of potato chips we had to share with the crew. It was a crazy scene in which I thought the director, Matias Masucci was nuts. Nothing made sense to me from the costumes, the camera set ups, and most of the dialogue was improvised. But, I have seen the final edit and the scene works amazingly well. Matias knew exactly what he wanted and made a very good and original film. THE BLOOD LET, I have only seen the trailer and a couple of scenes, but from what I have seen J.R. McGarrity, who was a one man production team, has created a creepy and funny movie. I love vampires so to actually be in a film about vampires was fun for me. While filming, which was a long shoot, J.R. was very open to ideas and always allowed the actor to play creatively, so that was fun. I won’t say what happens to me, but let’s just say there was a lot of blood. On this film the craft services was, “Did you bring your own?”
CD: Summer, you’ve worked on a couple of indie’s as well. Could you tell us about them?
SF: I produced, assistant directed, and starred in ALLEGHENY SUNSET a few years ago. We had been planning another film to be made in Kentucky when the director/writer decided to back out. I was left with actors a film crew and a budget but no film to make. We found a writer who was willing to write a script that fit what we had on hand (it was written in 4 days) and we went to Virginia to my hometown to film in the places that I had available. I had a fantastic time making that film, we finished filming in a few weeks despite having had no preproduction time and a crew/cast of four people. We rented a house in Clifton Forge Virginia where I grew up and shot the majority of it there. It was a blast!
CD: How did you guys meet Dave Campfield?
SF: I met Dave Campfield when I auditioned for his film SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE. I saw the audition listed and sent in my resume and headshot. I got called in for an audition which was conducted by Paul Chomicki and Robin Ritter. They filmed the audition and sent it to Dave in New York. He contacted me and said he really enjoyed my audition and it came down to me and one other actress…and he chose her (Jen Nikolaus). He did however have a smaller part available and he said he liked what I did in the audition well enough that he wanted to offer me the smaller part. Well I am no Diva, a small part sounded just fine to me. I took the small part and after a read through it turned out that a larger part opened up that he thought I would be good for (the part of Giselle). I accepted and we began filming soon after. I realized that Dave was doing this without an assistant director. I had recently assistant directed a few films and enjoyed it very much. After the first day of filming I asked Dave if he would be willing to let me Assistant Direct the film. He said yes, and the rest is history.
KM: I auditioned for the first CAESAR & OTTO film, Paul Chomicki filmed my audition as well and sent it to Dave in New York with his recommendations. Paul was like my biggest fan after my audition. I was cast in the first incarnation of Jerry, and met Dave for the first time on the first day of filming. I had quite a different take on the role from what Dave thought of when he wrote the script. He wasn’t too sure about it and had another actor waiting in the wings. So little did I know my first day of shooting was really my audition for Dave. But I guess, several films later with Dave, I won him over, and he learned to love my improvs and going off script. Which I did alot of on SUMMER CAMP MASSACRE.
CD: How was the experience working on Summer Camp Massacre?
SF: SCM was incredibly fun to work on. It was my first time working with Dave and Paul and the gang and the more I worked with them the more I adored them. This was a collection of seriously dedicated people who loved what they did. I got to work with the incredible Felissa Rose and Deron Miller and of course Joe Estevez. I was on the moon! Dave is so fun to work with and I learned so much from him on that film. It wrapped at about 2:00AM on Thanksgiving Day. I had to stop by an Albertsons on my way home from that last day of filming and buy a frozen turkey and the fixings which I had to start cooking in a few hours. It was a wild rush but I loved every second.
KM: I loved working on SCM. Dave shoots film like a crazy person. I call him the Jackie Chan of film making, he just sort of dives in, goes creatively crazy, and always stays in control. He gives himself these insanely short shooting schedules and works like 24 hours a day for about a week to make the film. We constantly had to tell him to eat, sit down, take a breather. But this man’s mind is like whirling on so many levels. However, he never became one of those sleep deprived, pressured directors. He always keeps his calm, sense of humor, and respect for his actors and crew. I am always amazed with the creativity of most Independent films. The tent scene between Felissa Rose and I, was shot in Paul’s living room and when you see the movie it feels like it’s outdoors. And SCM was also a case of gorilla film making, which is fun. We shot in Topanga Canyon without permits, so we had to work in an area that was far enough from civilization not to be noticed. But I wasn’t worried about the police as much I was worried about the snakes, so before every scene I was in, the crew made sure none of those lovely serpents were trying to get on camera.
CD: So what was your reaction when you found out you would be doing a sequel?
SF: I was ecstatic when I found out that there was going to be a sequel!! I was even more thrilled when I found out I would have a bigger part and get to play Chomicki’s love interest. I couldn’t wait to see the whole gang again. I think that was the best part. I knew I would be working with some of the most fun, hardworking and talented people I had ever had the privilege of working with and that was wonderful!
KM: Well I had done the first CAESAR & OTTO, therefore DEADLY CHRISTMAS was the third film in the Caesar & Otto franchise. But I am always excited to work with Dave and Paul. And Jerry is a role that seems to fit my sense of humor like a glove. Jerry has yet to have his moment of glory, I think that may be in the next film. Dave is always tweaking the role and asking me, “How does Jerry feel about this?” We treat Jerry like he’s a real person.
CD: Speaking of Jerry, how would you describe the character and why are your characters always named Jerry in Dave’s films?
KM: The answer to that is in the deep dark recesses of Dave Campfield’s twisted view of the world. I know it’s great, my first name is always the same, my last changes, but always with the same initials JG. So I guess I will never have to change the monograms on my linen or silver. Jerry has evolved over the years. But he has always maintained his desire to be famous and powerful and ruthless. He’s like a cross between Dexter and Charles Nelson Reilly. He loves the kill and is a fun loving optimist who drinks martinis. The martini part was not used in DEADLY CHRISTMAS, I forget why Dave choose not to bring Jerry’s drinking into the movie. Jerry is also the smartest guy in these movies. So for him to get thwarted by the bumbling Caesar and Otto is very frustrating to him. He can never figure out where he went wrong, how he got caught, and he plans on not letting it happen again.
CD: He’s such a unique personality and your delivery really stands out, were you able to interject your own ideas for him or was he portrayed exactly as written?
KM: Well Dave had a much different take on the role before I was cast. I read the script and really did see the role as funny, slightly insane, and a tad over the top. Or should I say way over the top. After Dave got used to the Jerry I brought to set, he allowed me a ton of freedom with improv and unscripted reactions. We would shoot his scenes as written, and then we would shoot them with me going “Jerrynuts.”. Worked really well in SCM, but in DEADLY CHRISTMAS Dave kept the scenes more restrained and focused on his take of the character. I trust him, so I did what he wanted.
CD: Summer, what can you tell us about your character Allison?
SF: Allison is a huge slob. She is the female equivalent of Paul Chomicki’s classic character Otto. I tried to make Allison a true reflection of Otto, the perfect fit for him…if you want to be with someone exactly like you of course.
CD: Did you portray her as she was written or did you add anything to her unique personality?
SF: I spent a while talking with Dave about what Allison should be, before the script was finalized. He talked with me alot about what he wanted from Allison and I felt like he valued my opinion on her during the creative process. I tried to stay very true to the vision Dave had for Allison, but I also tried to play with her a little bit and of course bring a little of myself to Allison as well.
CD: Do you guys enjoy working with the same stable of performers?
KM: Yes, Yes, Yes. Paul Chomicki, Felissa Rose, Deron Miller, Scott Aguilar, Avi Garg, and Summer are an amazingly talented group of actors with awesome attitudes. I constantly had to up my game when acting opposite those guys. You could never predict what they would do in a scene, which allowed me to have the confidence of just playing. The shoots never really felt like work around this cast, usually it was like a party, and Dave was like “ahh we are shooting here.” With DEADLY XMAS I was able to add my close friend Samantha Barrios to the stable and she fit perfectly. Talk about a talented actress with a wicked sense of humor.
SF: I think one of the best parts of working on the C&O films was the core group of performers and crew we worked with. Knowing that I could count on them to be there and be professional and on top of things and bring their great talent to the table was a great experience. I was so thrilled to learn I would be working with them again on DEADLY XMAS. It was like a high school reunion, but fun! I want to particularly say how great it was to work with Rich Calderon two times. He is a master of his craft, a fantastic, passionate, loyal person, and incredibly creative. What he can do with a shoe string budget boggles the mind. I got to work with him on a few of the sets and effects and it was such a pleasure.
CD: Ken, how fun is it playing a bad guy?
KM: It’s always fun being the bad guy, especially if he has a sense of humor about his work. Jerry loves what he does, whether it is dismembering Summer Camp Counselors, officiating a Satanic Mass, or having a martini. I think most actors like playing the bad guy. It’s not that it’s harder or any more complicated than the protagonist, but it seems to be a lot more fun. With a bad guy, your possibilities seem endless. When I was a child the first movie I ever saw was Disney’s Peter Pan, and I was rooting for Captain Hook.
CD: Summer, most of your scenes are with Paul, how is he to play off of?
SF: Paul is great to play off of. He has such a fun personality, he’s so easy going and so funny and he truly has a heart of gold. I was so happy when I learned that I would be doing so many scenes with him. I knew I could count on him to keep things fresh and to always bring that silly, sweet, goofy quality to every scene that is so very OTTO. You can’t help but enjoy a scene with Paul and I thought we had really good chemistry on screen. The most fun with him was actually our serious scene in the car. He doesn’t often get to play a serious kind of romantic type of scene and he really surprised me with his depth. We always think of Otto as this kind of goofball but he brought something more to it in that scene that was really delightful.
CD: You also served as an executive producer, was that something new for you?
SF: It was a step up for me. I had produced my own film, but I had never had that title in another person’s film and to have someone like Dave Campfield, who is really a perfectionist and very serious about his work was an honor. Working closely with him was an amazing experience and I consider him a dear friend. He has so much talent and dedication I know one day I will be saying I knew him when.
CD: One of my favorite moments in the film was the 80’s flashback with you and Paul, how was that to shoot?
SF: That scene was so super fun to shoot! I had a bit of a hard time with the accent, but Dave and Paul worked with me on it and finally got it to the desired ‘thickness’. I loved the costumes, the hair and especially the stripper shoes! We laughed so hard during the filming of that scene!! It was hard to keep a straight face with Paul in that wig!! Hilarious!!
CD: Ken, do you have a favorite moment in the film?
KM: Many of my favorite moments are scenes where me and other actors just improvised and had fun. I saw some the scenes and they were very very funny. Most of all my improvs on Xmas were left on the cutting room floor. For this film Dave had a very clear picture of how he wanted the story to play out, so he kept a tight leash on Jerry, otherwise it could become the Jerry Show. But of the ones that were left in, I think the scene where Jerry and Roberta are interviewing Caesar and Otto. That scene which is mostly scripted, there are some improved lines, was not rehearsed and Samantha Barrios, who plays Roberta, and I work so perfectly in sync. We were playing off each other like we had been doing a perfectly rehearsed scene. It was a lot of fun and the only reason Dave would stop filming was because Samantha and I would make each other laugh.
CD: How was the overall experience for you both and can we expect to see you return for further adventures with Caesar and Otto?
KM: I hope and light candles daily that Dave will include me in every Caesar & Otto film. I love Jerry and love working for Dave. Jerry is a hard guy to shake off once I have connected with him. I don’t know where this alter ego came from or goes, but there are times when I am auditioning or acting, Jerry steps up and I have to say down old man Dave Campfield is not around. Jerry just always wants to be the center of attention.
SF: I would have to give the experience in general four stars and an A+++ (I am a teacher now after all!). Some of the most wonderful people I have ever worked with in terms of dedication, talent and personality. I would be honored to work on another C&O film and to see the whole gang again although I don’t see how logistically it would work out with me being back in VA now, but if there was any way I could manage it I would. My C&O family is very special to me. Truly a wonderful bunch!
CD: Summer and Ken, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and best of luck to you both.
Be sure to check out Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas when it hits DVD on November 19, courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing (with VOD to follow).Pre-order on Amazon or look for it at your local Blockbuster or Family Video. You can find out more about the film by visiting the official FACEBOOK page. Check back next week when I sit down with Caesar and Otto themselves, director/star Dave Campfield and Paul Chomicki.
Interview: Summer Ferguson and Ken MacFarlane (Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas)