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Interview; Brandon Graham (Flesh Blanket)

A filmmaker trying to recreate a legendary comedy event… A movement of free speech being reenacted by a group of filmmakers and comedians… One 500 pound comedian whose demons will create nightmares and makes us voyeurs to terror… A film buried by Amazon VOD… This is the found footage nightmare known as “Flesh Blanket.”

Thank you Brandon for taking the time to talk about the found footage nightmare of “Flesh Blanket.” Can you talk about the origins of this project and connecting with those involved in getting the film off the ground including the departed Comedian Ramsey Moore?

“Flesh Blanket” was the brainchild of a group of writers who met on the set of a television pilot called The Real Potheads of North Hollywood.  Ramsey Moore had a script about a fat comedian smothering people to death, but it had never gotten any real traction. I had turned in a script to a couple investors called “Bump in the Night.” They loved it but told me that I needed to make a “Blair Witch” before they forked over any real money. I’m not a big fan of found footage horror and thought if I was forced to make a found footage movie it should be a big FU to the genre. That’s when the crazy wheels began turning.

We see in the film your hunt for funding. How difficult was it to gain funding for this film?

Getting 13 grand was a bitch! Most of what you see in the film about film funding is real. Getting completion funds after shooting 70% was easy. Investors were blown away at what we captured.

Can you first discuss the recent news of the film being banned by Amazon PRIME?  

Yea, what a shocker! “Flesh Blanket” was slated to be an Amazon Prime Exclusive for three weeks, so it would have been featured front and center in the horror section. One day before the October 19th release, Amazon contacted my distributer Terror Films and revealed that “Flesh Blanket” had been banned from Prime with a laundry list of reasons why. It was a major disappointment. You can still rent or buy on Amazon Video, but they made it impossible to even search for it. Let’s just say political correctness has infiltrated the indie horror scene. I hear that Amazon has systematically been reviewing all Non Rated films on Prime to flag them for “graphic content”.

Why go found footage to the tell the story on this project? What did this filming technique bring to this film?

I proposed to Ramsey Moore and the writers that we reimagine the fat comedian horror film as a found footage. They bought in to the idea and we began to theorize how we could make it believable and unique. Being huge fans of Andy Kaufman, we decided that we needed to ‘pull the wool over everyone’s eyes’ if we were to be successful. 95% of the people involved in the film thought I was making a pretentious documentary on freedom of speech. I wasn’t. It was a big risky experiment. Nearly all of the performances in Flesh Blanket were REAL.

What were some of the influences that guided the film? Someone at “FearNYC” horror festival said that the film felt as if Harmony Korine, John Waters and Eli Roth took a drunken bubble bath together. That’s pretty spot on. I think our guiding influence was Andy Kaufman and free speech icon Lenny Bruce. This movie is more about giving the finger to PC culture than it is an homage to any horror film.

This is your first feature overall, but you have worked in the business for a while. How did your experience aid you in getting this film completed? What was it like to complete such a unusual genre feature?

This industry is a wild one. I have been an assistant editor on “SyFy” show “Haven,” worked in post on “The Walking Dead” and am currently the Chief Creative Officer of a cool boutique media company “EUXmedia.” I think an intimate understanding of production and post production in a professional setting is invaluable, but I often wonder if I skipped film school and started making films early, would I be a better storyteller unburdened by filmmaking conventions. “Flesh Blanket” was an insane undertaking and didn’t fit into any “box”. I’m very proud of the unconventional approach we took.

The film played at some festivals during its run. How was the Fear NYC screening?

“FearNYC” was so cool! It was an intimate screening of around 65 in the heart of Times Square. The audience reaction was amazing, they laughed, they cried and when the movie got real, real dark, you could hear a pin drop.  We won ‘Best Picture’ and Ramsey Moore won ‘Best Actor.’ It was a surprise, as there were great genre films in there. I recommend submitting to all kinds of horror festivals as some of the big ones are just vehicles for studio horror films. That sucks.

What was pre-production like for “Flesh Blanket?”

We spend three months casting and cultivating relationships with the comedians, actors and crew. Remember, they all thought we were making a documentary called “The Lenny Bruce Experiment.” So, I carefully curated the experiment so that we had a complicated matrix of personalities and conflicts I could enable at anytime during actual production. There was a lot of secrecy involved and it was mind bending to say the least. What was real? What was not? Who knew what? There was nothing conventional about pre-production. Our Auditions were in a sketchy crack house where we gauged how cool the actresses were. We put them through a series of bizarre exercises and freaked them out. Those who played along got the gig. You see the real footage in the film.

Can you talk about bringing on the cast you did?

Pretty funny story actually. We needed ‘crazy’ for what was going to be a ‘crazy’ film. For the actresses, our auditions were in a sketchy ‘crackhouse’. We put them through a series of bizarre exercises and freaked them out. Those who played along got the gig. Shelley Michelle, world’s most famous body double, showed up with her daughter. Our producer played with the little girl while Shelley smashed her boobs into my face and sang masturbation songs. Hilarious. You see the real footage in the film. The male comedians were a mish mash of guys we knew or who were involved in some other projects we were developing. They are all funny guys.

For me, this film is disturbing and even though it was over the top, the emotion and horror coming off the screen feels a little too real, this comes from the struggle Ramsey’s character is dealing with.

Can you talk about the intangibles Ramsey brought to that the character and the film?

Ramsey Moore has been a working comedian and actor in Hollywood for decades. He was consistently frustrated that he was never given a meaty role and was regulated to disgusting fat guy roles. So we gave him a meaty disgusting fat guy role! Ramsey was so talented. The pain you see on screen was real. We blended Ramsey’s true stories of heartbreak and loss into the film and those moments could not be directed.

From

 a cinematography perspective, what was the thinking with using the handheld cam?

Ramsey is given a flip cam in the beginning of the film. He videotapes his encounters moving through the film. It was important that audience would see things from his perspective. In fact, the movie was originally conceived so that the end of the film you see now was the end of the second act! All of Ramsey’s flip cam footage was the end of the film. It connected the dots in a freaky ass way. I actually prefer this structure, but I kept being told that it was ‘too artsy’ and I had to ‘dumb it down’ or I had to ‘adopt a more linear structure’. I will release the original directors cut someday. I think it’s more disturbing.

Was the blocking difficult with a man the size of Ramsey?

Please include this question! LOL. No. This is the best question ever! Fat people block just fine. LOL.  It might be a little tight in a motel room.

Brandon, you are at the core of this story as the filmmaker recounting the experience and how it went horribly wrong as you try to recreate a historic comedic event. What made you decide to go in front and be behind the camera on this film? How much did your FX makeup and your physical appearance aid in pushing forward the trauma that unfolds during the film and how you embody it?

First off, there is no FX makeup. I literally grew my hair and beard for 2 years. Before I gave my testimonial in the film, I went on a week bender of drinking and no sleep. That’s me!

So, you are a ‘method’ actor?

Method always. I believe we needed a catalyst for the dementia the audience witnessed. A struggling filmmaker whose film is spiraling out of control seemed appropriate and relatable. I don’t think we could have pulled it off if I didn’t play dual roles, the director on camera and the director off camera. By imbedding myself in the film I made it more realistic for the performers. When things went wrong, even though that was planned, the performers felt my anxiety and it influenced their performances on camera.

If I understand correct, very few of the cast knew what was going on until a certain point in their performances? I understand how it creates authentic performances but why hold back from so many the reality of the project?

No one knows what is real and what is not in “Flesh Blanket.” If we let the comedians or actors know what we were doing it would have been disastrous. In fact, we had to cut a comedian from the film entirely because they didn’t understand what we were really doing. When we revealed what was happening to the cast, they were dumbfounded, completely blown away. The technique made everyone look awesome. Reviewers always praise the performances.

What was the editing and post like to make sure the film’s narrative flowed, hit the certain story beats, and visually reflected the doc storytelling you were presenting? How crucial was it in this stage?

This movie was cut a few different ways. It wasn’t until Ramsey’s passing that it took its current form. I was so devastated over his death that I couldn’t even look at the film for a year. It was after that time of mourning that I was able to reinvest and look at the film from a fresh perspective. While this is not the definitive cut of “Flesh Blanket,” it is the version most suited to showcase Ramsey’s performance. I think it’s the most impressive thing about the film and I let that guide my editorial hand to the finish line.

How far did you push the line on screen with the comedy and horror? Could you have pushed it farther? Was there certain lines you would not cross? How difficult was it to ride that line of horror and comedy?

I think the entire movie is hilarious, but it’s really was mean spirited at times. There is almost no gore in this film and we still got banned. Political correctness is the death of comedy. We set forth to push the envelope a bit, for sure. Filmmaker from a few of the “Saw” films Marcs Dunstan, watched the film and was mortified at some things left in that particular cut of the film. There are things that will never be seen because they went too far. There are no lines I won’t cross, but I’m always open to take a step backward when a valid argument ensues. I cut the “N” word out of Ramsey’s stand-up when taking about Obama. It was really, really hard. That was the moment our lives became in danger at the comedy show. Where Barstow gang members began threatening Ramsey’s life. I cut it because it didn’t serve the narrative. It was just shocking.

Can you talk about Ramsey’s mental breakdown that leads to the deaths we see in the film? How did you come to the understanding in the writing and performance surrounding the graphic nature and rage of deaths during the film?

We are all capable of horrific things. What drives someone to do such things?  It is rare that we get to witness a believable mental breakdown in cinema. We concentrated on the real trigger points in Ramsey’s life: A troubled relationship with his father, a tragic death, his anger toward disingenuous women and the pressure of headlining a feature film. These were all real issues, we just amped them up and kicked the door down! The film builds in its rage and graphic nature of what happens toward the end makes it all the more believable. If I really think about it. Ramsey and I were angry. Angry at a wimpy society hell bent on destroying freedom of speech for the sake of “not offending people”. It’s a hard thing to fight against these days. Everyone is a target. Maybe I am an old fart at 41, still basking in the exploitation films of my youth and trying to put a socially relevant spin on them. I know what Ramsey would say about the film’s controversial backlash… “fuck ‘em. This movie is genius!”

Watch the trailer for “Flesh Blanket” at Youtu.be/l-evdgQOyKcWatch it now on Amazon Prime, Vudu and ITunes on November 9th. 

 

 

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