After having worked on and off as an indie filmmaker, I’ve found that often after filming has wrapped, everyone will go their separate ways and rarely keep in touch despite promises to do otherwise. However, low-budget horror indie films has always been unique for me though as whenever I’ve met someone at a convention or festival or have worked with them on a film, those who are involved in the genre actually DO stay in touch. Perhaps it’s not that odd when considering that most people working on horror films just love to work on horror films whereas in other genres, the work may simply be done for a paycheck.
It’s also not as odd to find that the people involved in horror are as diverse a crowd as a group of riders on a subway train. Last month, I had the honor of promoting my own film Won Ton Baby! at Michael Hein’s New York City Horror Film Festival and the crowd there was just as diverse as any other horror convention. Diverse personalities such as Chris Wylde, Stan Shaw, Frank Sabatella, Michael Gingold, and guest of honor William Lustig were all in attendance in the intimate setting of the hallowed (and kickass) Tribeca Cinemas. However, the person that stood out to me above others was teenager J.D. Lifshitz.
While most of us were drowning in a hormonal flood of incessant masturbation in our earliest teen years, J.D. was out doing stand-up comedy attempting to make a name for himself. By the age of 16 – when most of us are worried about the removal of braces or the onset of an acne breakout – J.D. was busy making his first feature film produced by Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS).
Today, J.D. is a vibrant, talented, and energetic 17 year old who is currently preoccupied with the post production his film (as well as with trying to finish up high school). (As far as I know, he’s also single for any young ladies looking to nab him on the way up the ladder of success). The two of us hit it off at the festival and have kept in touch as a result. The following is an interview to let horror fans know a little more about this horror prodigy and about his forthcoming indie horror flick, KILLED ON THE FOURTH OF JULY.
James Morgart (JM): You’re only 17 years old and you’ve not only made your first feature film, but you started doing stand up comedy when you were thirteen? How did the stand-up comedy come about?
J.D. Lifschitz (JDL): I started doing Stand-Up in Summer Camp when I was 12, we would get kids to pay a little fee and we would do a half-hour show, which usually consisted of me roasting kids, making fun of the camp, etc. When I was 13 I was in Arizona and met Elon Gold, and asked for advice, he liked me and hooked me up with his Dad who was a talent agent.
JM: KILLED ON THE 4th OF JULY’s trailer promises one hell of a fun ride. For those who haven’t heard of the film yet, what’s it about?
JDL: KILLED ON THE 4TH OF JULY tells the touching Story of Karl Chane, a deformed carnival worker who develops a bond with Kassidy Rail, a 7 year old girl after she treats him with even the slightest bit of kindness. Her Father is offended that Karl would talk to his kid, so he has Karl fired from the Carnival. Karl does not take this well, and he decides to “get” Kassidy, disposing of anyone who gets in his way…
In true Slasher fashion, Kassidy’s older sister Shannon and her high school friends are having a little 4th of july party.
It’s a homage to the Lon Chaney Universal Horror Films, as well as the 80’s Teen Sex Comedy’s, and of course the Slasher Genre.
JM: What inspired you to make the film in the first place?
JDL: Many things. It all came down to me and my Friend Josh Adams (Karl) being frustrated about projects we were supposed to work on that kept getting pushed off. We decided we would “Make Our Own Movie”, we decided that regardless of cast, crew, or budget we would shoot it come June 28th, whether we had $ 20, or $ 20,000. I wrote the script in a month, and sent it to Tim Sullivan, who loved it and agreed to produce, which helped us gain some more legitimacy. I had set out to write a fun, Slasher homage, the initial idea me and Josh had come up with was “Carnie Kills People With A Sledgehammer”, and we just went from there.
The concept of someone getting vengeance after being let go, that’s something that I’ve always been frightened of. I have always been paranoid about getting people fired, and I won’t ever complain about wait staff or service, generally. I just have this fear, like what would happen if you complained and someone got fired, and they followed you home? What if they broke into your house and tried to get even? I think with the current state of the economy, this phobia has even more relevance.
Also, the fact that Kassidy is barely in grade school makes it even more disturbing, I mean she’s six years old and Karl is 32, that two is something to think about. KILLED ON THE 4TH OF JULY hardly ever takes itself to seriously, but in the beginning we try to make you feel sympathy for Karl, here is someone who just can’t catch a break, and no one has ever even given the guy time of day, so we can’t help but feel sorry for him. On the surface he seems like a nice enough, and even harmless guy, but as It progresses, we find more about Karl and realizes that he may not be so innocent. I’m a big fan of the Eli Roth approach to Filmmaking, I think he has some of the scariest concepts in Hollywood. I mean the thought of Cabin Fever is horrifying, I mean imagine catching a disease nobody knows about in the middle of no where? Or being alone and lost in a Foreign Country where nothing is what it seems? He just chooses to execute them in comedic ways.
Now, I love scary horror, but more often than not stone faced horror needs a little bit of humor. Few Horror Films work with no humor, “The House Of The Devil” is the most recent example of a serious Horror Film actually working and scaring the audience. I hope that there are people who are scared by “KILLED ON THE 4TH OF JULY”, but I am mainly hoping people just have a good time with it.
JM: Have you always been a big horror fan? What are some of your favorite horror directors & films?
JDL: The first Slasher I remember watching was Scream when I was like five years old, and immediately fell in love with Wes Craven’s FIlms. I had a lot of babysitters growing up who loved Horror Films, and would recommend them to me. One year we had this guy Jamie staying at our house, and he would take me down to BlockBuster and pick me up the movies my Parents wouldn’t let me see, all the R-Rated Horror I could handle. I remember when he showed me An American Werewolf In London, and that was when I learned about “Splatstick”, which is comedy through gore. I became a huge gorehound, and probably the only one in my 3rd grade class who knew who Freddy Krueger was, I actually remember thinking that I had to watch Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, so I would know how to kill him, just in case. Than I watched it and wasn’t scared of Freddy anymore. I would get my friends to watch all these gory Horror Flicks, I remember when I first read Fangoria how cool it was to know there was magazine dedicated to the genre. I remember the first one I got my Mom to get me had The Blair Witch 2 on the cover, and I was so psyched.
As for Favorite Horror Films, I love: Halloween, Psycho, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The People Under The Stairs, Suspiria, The Wicker Man (Original!), Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, An American Werewolf In London, Candyman, The Lost, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws, etc.
As for New Horror Directors, I love Neil Marshall, Alexandre Aja, Eli Roth, Tim Sullivan, Ti West, Adam Green, Chris Sivertson, Paul Solet, Joe Lynch, Lucky Mckee, etc.
My favorite Director of all time is Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho to me is the Perfect Horror Film), but I love: Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento, John Landis, Wes Craven, Tim Burton, Lucio Fulci, George A. Romaro, Joe Dante, etc.
JM: How about horror writers? If you were to adapt one novel, who or which would you choose to adapt?
JDL: I love Bentley Little, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Ketchum, Edgar Allan Poe, Ira Levin, and Stephen King. I still love R.L. Stein, and just started loving Christopher Moore. I don’t know if I’d adapt a Novel, it would depend on so many things. It would really depend on the Novel, and if there was a way to do it without cheapening it to much.
JM: How did you land funding for KILLED ON THE 4th of JULY? Was it difficult convincing people to fund a teenager’s dream of making a feature horror film?
JDL: It was difficult to get one investor. After the first one, it all kind of came together. It was really amazing. Me and Josh knew from the get-go that we wanted to raise money independent of our parents, so we made a Business plan and waited. We actually had people signed on even before we had any money, and I was saying that we had more than we actually did, which helped us get that amount. I ended up selling Ten Shares for $ 5,500 a share, and I put in $ 5,500 of my own Birthday and other saved up money. We ended up raising $ 55,000 Independent of our Parents, just a few weeks before Shooting! While $ 55,000 isn’t nothing, it’s certainly not the ideal Budget, so we had to cut some things. For example, I had wanted to shoot on Super-16mm, but due to budgetary constraints Tim gave me the idea to Shoot on RED ONE, which is beautiful, but still Film just has this organic look to it. Also, there is a Kill on the table that we had to compromise due to budgetary restraints and lack of Pre-Production, and while the Scene is still gruesome, but we had to come up with a more cost-effective way to do it on the spot. My advice for anyone trying to make an Independent Film is just tell everyone you know about it, because more often than not, people want to be involved in a Movie. Everybody wants to be a Producer, they just don’t all know it yet. Just make the Movie, even if just for yourself, just to learn, go out and Shoot. I know I am not the first person to say this, but it’s so true.
JM: I’ve heard Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance in it? Did he have any words of advice for you filmmaker to filmmaker?
JDL: Lloyd has shown an excessive amount of support, he was so enthusiastic on set that he helped everyone around him get even more into it. The night he was on set was one of the Smoothest nights of Shooting. Lloyd has just consistently been encouraging me, and Lloyd is a real Filmmaker. He does have something to say, and that is obvious to anyone who watches Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead, which in all it’s diarrhea and blood and zombie chickens, has a style that bleeds through. You can watch a Lloyd Kaufman Movie, or a Troma Movie and you’ll know it’s a Troma movie. You can only say that about a few Filmmakers, but Lloyd has a style that is his own. I think the worst thing a FIlm can be is forgettable. That’s why Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead will always be a better Film than Vantage Point.
JM: Many of Lloyd’s films have a regional East Coast culture weaved in and out of them, can we expect the same from KILLED ON THE 4th of JULY?
JDL: It’s a homegrown New York Movie, but it doesn’t take place in New York, although if you watch closely you can catch certain hints that it may be NY. I always get excited when I find out things have been Shot in the Neighborhood. The last Feature that I know of to shoot predominantly in the Five Towns was “Amongst Friends”, a Film by the Producer of Entourage, which shot some stuff down the block from Kassidy’s House in Hewlett. It is debatable whether Scorcese shot exteriors in Lawrence or not. We shot in parts of Lawrence, Back Lawrence, Hewlett, and Brooklyn.
JM: What sort of hurdles did you run into while making the film?
JDL: We had so many things going on while we were shooting. We had one actress drop out a few hours before we shot the scene, forcing us to re-cast on the spot in twenty minutes, we ended up having my Mom’s Friend play the role. We had one actress get kidney failure, and had to kill her character off-screen, we had to have certain Crew Members multi-tasking and taking on roles for various reasons. We had some drug issues, rain days, FX mess-ups, and the expected issues. It was certainly hard, but for the most part we had a dedicated Cast and Crew who helped us Put It Together. A couple of the Crew Members were friends of mine from out of state (One from out of Country-Canada) on their own dime to work for free and live in the House we were shooting in. We were shooting 12-16 hour nights, 5 days a week.
JM: How has postproduction treated you so far? Do you find it anymore or less nerve wracking than the actual production of the movie?
JDL: It depends, Shooting was definitely more hectic, Post-Production is occasionally just frustrating. Shooting was certainly more tiring though.
JM: With the trailer now screened at New York City Horror Film Fest, what’s next for the film? Any plans set for screening the feature?
JDL: We should be finished Editing in January! We will be Submitting it to Various Festivals!
JM:. What about for you personally? Do you have any other projects on the horizon? When will we see the next JD Lifsh*tz Picture?
JDL: Right now I’m writing a Teen Comedy I have been writing since I was 13, and I am working on a Horror Film Directed by my friend Jared Collings, who was the Art Director on KILLED ON THE 4TH OF JULY, and played “Fireworks Technician # 2”. It’s a B&W somewhat Hitchcockian Super-16mm Film that’s very Original, Smart, Creepy, and Stylish. I am also working on a Project with a few Comedians and Friends. I’m also trying to graduate high school simultaneously. Thanks!
JM: And thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule! Good luck!