A very warm welcome to my special guest: producer and director Michael Hoffman to Horrornews.net. Many movie fans may take for granted how difficult a film like Girls Gone Dead was to make. Describe some of the obstacles and challenges while in production.
MICHAEL HOFFMAN: Ah…the entire movie (laughs). I think just about everything was an obstacle. It was just put together very, very quickly. We were a low budget film. It was tricky to coordinate everyone’s schedule. We were in an extremely tight window and the first round of shooting the weather did not cooperate at all. It was freezing cold when we shot in Florida, literally to the point of freezing. As you know most of the film has girls in skimpy clothes including a climax where everybody is in bikinis. So it didn’t go well with the girls. I’d go ‘okay let’s do some night time pool scenes…’ and it was 28 degrees I believe without the wind chill…in Florida. It’s insanely cold for here especially when it is one hundred percent humidity. It’s insane yeah. It was bone chillingly cold. I’ve lived north in Illinois and it’s such a different cold up there. It doesn’t really hurt until it’s zero.
Aside from that it was the script itself. Some of the scenes had so many people on camera. It proved really challenging the first go around. We ended up having to rent a gigantic unit off and had to return six months later when it was warmer. We decided we had to shoot with two cameras because one just wasn’t going to fly. We were shooting with prime lenses and particles were getting in every shot. I just wasn’t going to happen.
We put in a supplement DVD knowing the fact we had to shoot the bar sequence twice because we only got half way through it. The location changed owners while we were shooting.
HN: Oh wow…
MH: Yeah it was a huge deal breaker for us. It was just doing a lot of big scenes. I’m sure when you’re watching the movie you’ll notice the whole Crazy Girls mansion sequence we had essentially one camera body for that and over cranes to hold me. And with scheduling we’d have Jerry Lawler for one day and Beetlejuice for two days, Ron Jeremy for this day, to make it all come together for all the right sequences plus all the roaming crane shots and the pool shots with the crane they were there. We couldn’t grab two other shots potentially. The whole thing was nail biting and challenging.
We had a very short window for post-production. That’s very challenging too. We finished shooting the film in September and I did pickups in October just for the little stuff like closing credits, inserts, the Golf network on TV and stuff. I didn’t have all of my footage until October. I had my cut guard in January in Los Angeles to do a call in session because we had a March 28th premiere date and a delivery date to distributors very shortly after. So I had to in a very short time complete all of the scoring, get it color corrected, get it mixed, the effects shots, get the title shots and everything mastered up to quality control. So that turned out to be a huge challenge too because with most of my movies there isn’t much of a postproduction department; It’s essentially me. If it weren’t for the studio helping me with some of the mix….I have no idea how we met our deliverable dead line.
HN: Those are a lot of restraints but it obviously paid off in spades too. The final product is evident that a lot of hard work and sweat was put into it too.
MH: Good, good. There are some strong scenes and I’m sure there are some scenes that are stronger than others. I just wanted to make sure that when you watched it, when you rented a movie called Girls Gone Dead it didn’t have what you were expecting in it, which was some T&A and some ridiculous death scenes. It moved along and didn’t take a tone. The whole thing was just a joke on itself in general. There are some subtleties that you’ll notice. There are quite a few that you’ll notice. I think that when you watch it you’ll think it’s not as stupid as it seems, you know? Which it’s always a hope that the script was more intelligent than it lets on.
HN: I like the subtleties. I like how it makes fun of a number of different things such as religious fanaticism and the whole Girls Gone Wild series and even a stab at the whole fixation on social media was pretty clever too.
MH: Oh cool, yeah thanks. There’s one scene in particular that I’ve already dubbed that one character is with another and she grabs a prayer candle with a picture of the virgin Mary on it and under her breath she calls the girl a prude ass bitch while looking at the virgin Mary so….(combined laughs).
So anyone that watches that will be like, “Jesus Christ man…” and I’m like well… you know…we’re trying to offend people so…
HN: It pays off anyway. Movie fans may not be familiar with some of your other endeavors such as Spring Break Massacre, Scary Tales and Reunion of Terror just to name a few.
MH: Then they’re probably lucky….
I directed some micro budget shows over the years. I’ve worked on some big films, editing. I’m in Los Angeles and the only reason I’m there is because I’ve made some micro, micro, micro budget films. Reunion of Terror was like….twenty thousand dollars in the end. That’s including postproduction. Yes I’ve had some fortunate stints. It had a lot of TV play. But I mean it is what it is and I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to get anything cleared and properly distributed. We sold Spring Break and Reunion to eight foreign territories I think…in Japan…no Germany…I have a German dubbed version DVD of Spring Break Massacre, which is pretty damned funny. I find it’s a lot more entertaining that way.
I think the business when you’re starting out and when you’re making the leap from micro budget to ultralow budget it’s…I don’t know I think the whole budget on Girls Gone Dead was half a million maybe. I want to say at least a hundred and so odd thousand of that went to postproduction, just necessities for broadcast specifications. After we paid the levities and such and shot for forty some odd days you’d be amazed at how much money there wasn’t. Where the hell did it go? But as you see we had a lot of stunts too. We did it right. We got insurance. We used a process trailer for the driving scenes. We used a full stunt team for all of the stunts and gave the cast and crew their own house to lodge. We made sure everyone got paid. Essentially these were primaries. It’s just completing a film and getting it distributed is the most challenging….it seems to look easy for some reason every time I get into this and realize how tough it is I ask myself time and again, why am I doing this again? Why am I doing this to myself? It’s going to be at least two years of work. You expect it to be more like a year.
HN: I guess it’s no mystery as to why a lot of productions get shut down due to shortage of funding or any other number of variables come into play too.
MH: Oh dude we were exceptionally, exceptionally concerned about that. I can tell that my partner that produces Ryan Dee was always nervous about that because it was the investors first film and he was always worried the executive producer would pull the plug at a certain point. But there’s also a point where we hit where once you get so far there’s no turning back. It’s a guaranteed loss you know? But at the end of the day we made the film a lot stronger and that’s why we had filming celebrity attachments because we thought if the film isn’t going to do this, let’s do this essentially. It allowed the film to be so much better in my opinion.
HN: Absolutely. That’s actually a good sequay into our next question too Michael. There’s quite a barrage of talent in the credits for Girls Gone Dead ranging from WWE talent to iconic rock legends to Penthouse Pets to characters from the Howard Stern show. With such diversity were there any egos that came into play? Who turned out to be the biggest surprise to work with?
MH: That’s a good question. I can honestly say that of the name talent believe it or not none of them were really difficult at all which is unusual. I’m not a stargazer type guy. I’ve worked on enough shows to know that name talent can be a pain in the ass to work with. To be honest everyone we got was really cool. I would say that for preparedness and stuff somebody that no one seems to talk about and he just sort of has a walk on in the film is the actor who plays Missy’s father. I’ve been a fan for a while. He was just so prepared and from a directing stand point watching him work made me appreciate the craft of acting even more. This is one of the few times where average work turned out to be a serious pro. It was pretty amazing watching him because he’d do things like on take three he’d exit the phone booth and I’d state to do it like before and he’d say oh yeah with my right hand here and my expression there. I was thinking wow now that guy is paying attention to his continuity. He knows what he did before and two takes before that he did differently.
I would say the biggest surprise to me was Beetlejuice. I expected him to be completely bonkers and insane. He was actually really sweet, really sweet and shy person; not as crazy as you’d think. I think he’s just over the top on the show.
HN: Sounds like you’ve been really blessed and fortunate to get such an ensemble. An obvious spoof on Slasher films, religious fanaticism, social media and of course the Girls Gone Wild series was there any reluctance for the models to bare all before the camera?
HN: Aside from the twenty degree weather that is…
MH: That was the biggest one but no. I would say once in a while throughout the casting process you’d find someone that was perfect and just not willing to do it. It ended there, you know? But we got lucky and found people even better. I think everyone involved with the film realized it’s the genre that it is and of all the films I directed no one really had an issue with it at all. It was actually pleasant. If anyone that was uncomfortable it was always kind of me directing the film (combined laughs).
But my wife wrote it and it’s interesting because when you start to direct scenes with nudity in it after a while, after movie two or three you don’t realize or notice that they’re topless or whatever on set. You’re looking at the shot and you’re looking at the frame and it’s just an object within the frame if that makes sense. It helps to keep it professional you know? Honestly I know that all of the girls said there was no problem there was professionalism but yeah man I don’t really have any good stories about that. They were totally willing to do it.
HN: I did notice in the credits and you’d mentioned just a moment ago that your wife had written the script as well. It’s an unusual combination. I don’t think that a lot of fans would expect that the script would come from the mind of a woman actually.
MH: Well my partner and I Ryan Dee…I had the concept of Girls Gone Dead in my head for oh a decade or so. My partner and I kind of outlined the story. Even though we’re spoofing Slumber Party Massacre and that kind of cliché and the horror genre with those kind of characters we wanted the dialogue to come from a female’s perspective.
My wife and I when we met we were both writers and we actually worked for the same company for a while in Pittsburgh, writing. She was more than happy and understands more than anybody that goes along with the genre. She loves drive inn movies like I do so it’s kind of funny because I can sit down with my wife every night and say let’s watch Hard bodies and stuff. It’s one of those things. I think she had a lot of guy friends. Growing up she was kind of one of the guys. It’s cool, you know? She understands the territory. And honestly when we talk about the nudity I think that creates a good buffer too. Everything that I’ve directed was essentially written by a woman.
HN: Yes absolutely. I think what really resonated with me was the dialogue of the clique between the young women standing around in the house. The character of Missy just embodied all that was a spoiled bitch and as the viewer we couldn’t wait to see her get it in the end.
MH: Right, of course and we made sure we made a character that you’d love to hate. I won’t give anything away but when we were talking about clichés I’m sure you noticed that the asshole character in the movie and usually in horror movies two clichés are the asshole dies first or the black guy dies first. Maybe even the asshole is the black guy. In this movie we don’t do that at all. I think that’ll be an interesting thing for people to watch. I’m curious to see what kind of feedback that’ll get.
It’s a strange movie, you know? When we came out of the premiere in Miami a lot of people came up to me like, dude..and we got a really good reaction. Just from the general public that was there as it was on at the time of Wrestlemania. I had a bunch of walk ups where people would say hey I loved that movie but it was f*cking weird! It’s different right? Even though it’s the same sh*t, its different, you know? That was kind of the goal doing this. I think having that written by a woman helped that tremendously.
HN: It was really well received from what I’ve noticed so far. There’s some twists and turns that people probably aren’t expecting too
MH: The demise of the killer in this film, I don’t think anyone could possibly guess that. You’re one of the many people that have mentioned there are twists and turns but not in the direction you’re thinking, I hope. It’s like god damn this is so cliché and then it goes somewhere and then goes exactly where you expect it to go for a second, then something absolutely ridiculous happens. That was the goal on the film.
The bar sequence, I don’t want to give it away but we built that bar and we replayed about twenty minutes of storytelling then decided let’s go to this hot bar. And from here we’re just going to make the movie pretty out there. I’m hoping more people will think oh I didn’t expect that to be the killer. I’m sure a lot of people are going to guess it. I’m hoping what else is in the film if that makes sense is what makes this special.
HN: Without a doubt some twists and unpredictable scenes. My favorite scene without giving away any plot spoilers of course is how everything is kind of tidied up nicely. What I didn’t realize too until I did a little bit of research is, and you’d just mentioned the bar sequence too is that the female bartender there is Linnea Quigley. She was also in some B-rated horror movies in the nineties and eighties.
MH: Oh yeah she was the premiere scream queen.
HN: Creepazoids a film I’d just written a review upon, she was in…
MH: Yeah I saw your review for that and then let you watch the movie and I was terrified. I thought, oh oh…Oh god if he didn’t like that one what’s he going to think of this?
Linnea was in some great movies back in the day. I was a big fan of hers growing up. She was in some of my favorite movies like Silent Night Deadly Night, Night of The Demons, Return of The Living Dead, f*cking classic. I’ve known her now for like six or seven years. It’s cool because she was in Spring Break Massacre for a smidge, a very brief cameo. But geez it was nice to shoot in Florida because she lives here and I live here. So it was funny as we’d worked together on Spring Break I shot in Illinois in six days; big mistake. Well the whole film…but we both flew in from Florida to do the film which is ironic in many ways. She’s awesome. I wanted to give her something different that her fans haven’t seen but I know when Linnea saw the film at the premiere she actually came over and said this is one of the best things she’s seen in twenty years. I said thank you and figured it was the usual blowing smoke up your ass or just being nice but friends from Linnea’s I’d gotten a bunch of calls and emails they’d all said Linnea had meant it. Each of them said, she’d told them you’ve got to go and see this movie. This is a good, low budget movie, you know? This one she was proud of. It’s awesome. I’m so happy to hear that. She dug it, you know?
HN: It must be a real thrill to get that kind of response from someone that you’d been watching as a fan for years too and have that come back tenfold. I think that’s great.
MH: Yeah and it’s a nerve wracking experience to sit in a movie theatre with a hundred and twenty people sold out and not having any idea how anyone is going to take the film.
HN: I imagine, yeah.
MH: It’s like I told the executive producer don’t mind me if I get up and leave. He says, you can’t do that, that’s rude. I don’t think that’s rude. I think that a lot of people can’t do that. But I’m going to an event this Monday up in New York. There’s going to be barely anyone I know there. That’s going to be scary the Fangoria screening.
HN: Well I think you’ll be delightfully surprised.
MH: I hope so. I hope they have a bar close to the theatre. It’s definitely a movie where people should just have a couple of beers and just check their brain at the door. I mean if you want to be over analytical I’m sure there’s tons of things that are wrong with it but it was made to be fun and that was it.
HN: Meant for a good time, for sure. Obviously Michael you’re a fan of horror and you’ve been described as having a personal collection of some of the worst films on VHS. Who do you consider some of your influences in the horror genre and who do you consider some of your comedic influences as well?
MH: A good question; as I’d said I grew up watching I think the first horror movie I ever saw I was seven. For some reason in my hotel room my mom let me watch Pet Semetary. It was awesome, it came out around ’88 I think it was right? But growing up, John Carpenter, big time; I think it was Halloween my grandmother let me watch. I was hooked on Carpenter and you know he does the original score in films and I played classical piano for eight years so that was always kind of an influence too. It’s funny as you grow older your tastes definitely change and I do have some the collection of some of the worst films ever made. I found some to be even better than comedies. I mean bad, bad stuff, sh*t you’ve never heard of like Pice The Brain Sucker and Call of the Satanic Alien Beast, just really random, hard stuff to find you know?
People say oh, that’s a terrible movie like Battlefield Earth. And I’m like oh no, no, no, no, no, no you’ve got to see Night of Horror, man. There’s a giant smudge on the lens for ten minutes of the movie or a whole ten minute scene over exposed where the actors and actresses stare right at the camera and they’re lighting it with car head lights and you can’t hear a word anyone says. You know that’s rough. But my tastes change. I guess I have a strange sense of humor you know? As I got older and started making micro budget stuff like Scary Tales I was nineteen then I think?
I realized how challenging it was just to get a film done. I started getting a lot of respect for guys that just got their sh*t out there. Whether they turned in something good, something bad it means something. Once in a while to turn in a really good film, they weren’t trying to make the next Martin Scorcese film. They just tried to make due with what they had. That’s why I started really digging the guys like Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray.
In comedies I’ve always been a big fan of T&A sex comedies. I don’t know why the genre is so dead. I guess it’s because hard core p*rn is so available now. They used to make fun movies like Ski School and like I’d said Hard Bodies, Hard Moves, all those films. I’d love to see that genre come back. Films like Porky’s where there is still an innocence to it but it has a hard R if that makes sense. It has an R rating but it still restrains itself.
HN: I was actually just thinking about a film I’ve seen likely dozens of times over the years and it’s a little hard to find called Zapped with Scott Baio and Willie Aames
MH: Dude I own Zapped and Zapped Again are you kidding me?
(combined laughs). Dude that’s awesome in the scenes where they’re making fun of Carrie? No one really mentions the Willie Aames reference in Girls Gone Dead. I won’t give it away but you realize Willie Aames is Bibleman right?
HN: Right, that’s too funny.
MH: Willie Aames is awesome. He’s a cruise director now. But I mean all of those movies there was something just fun about them. You can watch them now. They don’t come with that preconceived notion of being the new funny. I can’t explain it but today’s comedy or from what I’ve seen lately anyway it so unfunny that it’s funny. I mean when they’re driving stuff home and it misfires and you they continue to tell you it misfires three more times to try and make you laugh but its so unfunny.
I’ve watched sitcoms like Parks and Recreation and I guess it’s just over my head or something I’m not sure. You can be subtle and funny but even some of the lewd comedies are a let down. The Hangover part 2, I liked the first one but the second one was lost on me for some reason.
HN: I can relate and I think it’s a pity because probably of the last dozen or so quote unquote contemporary comedies I’ve watched as of late I’ve laughed maybe once or twice throughout the entire picture. It’s unfortunate.
MH: Yeah I don’t really know why that is. I don’t know why that is. It’s rare today that someone will say, oh man that movie was freaking hilarious. I know that when I saw King Pin in the movie theatre I was dying laughing. It was vulgar and stuff but to me it was vulgar in a good way. It was raunchy, dark and random but it was fun. I don’t know. I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s going on with comedies right now. I’m hoping and just wish that someone will say, screw with just trying to be so damned cleaver because Hollywood it seems right now is just trying to be too cleaver for its own good. Make stuff that is fun, it doesn’t have to be hilarious, just make it a good time.
That’s what those films all have in common that I dig is yeah sure Private School or Private Resort or any of those movies aren’t great films and sure they have some jokes that misfire but I’m still having fun just watching it you know?
MH: It’s no overly stylistic the shot coverage is there. They’re not being arcane with it. If you choose to laugh at it, cool, if not there’s always lots of T&A on display and it’s just fun.
HN: Yeah it’s an example of trying too hard and I think that if they brought back films like Revenge of the Nerds and stuff like that I think everyone would appreciate them more right?
MH: Hey that’s what I’ve been pushing for a really long time. I’ve never really had the budget for it. Girls Gone Dead is still low budget but I’d love to direct a T&A comedy.
HN: What’s the greatest piece of advice you could offer to an aspiring, independent film maker?
MH: Hmmm….here’s the advice I have, learn from mistakes. So many people talk about getting things done. They don’t do anything. Hollywood is a town that when I looked out there it was full of people sitting around in coffee shops. They’d discussed the great script they’d had for twenty years and why no one would finance it, you know? It’s always bothered me. I try to tell people, go out there. When you work a job like me delivery pizzas….I mean come on God video equipment now compared to years ago is so cheap. So grab something, make it, learn from your mistakes. Find out what you did wrong, try it again, try it again and on the side if you can do some free work. Surround yourself with people who are worth while and learn what you can’t. Don’t be arrogant and if you do something that can get financed make sure you don’t do something that is done for you, if that makes sense. I mean you have to want to make the project obviously but don’t make the perfect drama that only you’ll appreciate. You’ll be in trouble if you can’t appeal to a mass audience. We all have projects in our hearts that we want to do, personal to us all. Believe it or not I don’t want Girls Gone Dead to be the end epitome of my entire career. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So I always tell people, make something. Learn from your mistakes. Make something else. Work for someone else. Grow and when you have the ability then try to raise capital. Because you have to know what you’re doing somewhat and with every film you’re just going to get better and better. You’ll be able to identify your own weaknesses. It’s a tricky deed, getting into the film industry.
I would also just surround yourself with good people, who have faith in you and confidence in you so nothing screws up. Whether it’s a ten thousand dollar movie or a million dollar film, if the people you hire don’t support you or have faith that affects everything; Believe it or not.
HN: Makes sense…
MH: Definitely, it’s a business. People forget that it is a business. It’s a business where the people who haven’t made it yet have a chip on their shoulder. You get people like, ‘oh I’m more talented then this guy, why’s he directing the picture?’ or ‘I’m a better writer than this person, why did they write the picture?’. Be careful, look out for that, you know? It can work problems. I’ve worked a lot of shows that fall apart before completed for that exact reason. They call them insubordinates.
HN: Makes sense, there’s dissention in the ranks because of egos too right?
MH: Oh sure. Everyone knows better. I tell everyone even when a director is blowing it I try to be supportive. Because making a film, a real film that is distributed and at Cannes and on television, like the real one, not the micro-budget stuff that you made a cheapo deal that you’ll never see a nickel from. The real deal requires not just talent, talent is a small part but it requires motivation, drive and you have to at least love the project that you’re doing. If you don’t you’re stuck for a long, long process. It’ll take about two years. You may kid yourself and think oh this’ll take six months and I’ll move onto my next big project for my resume. In the low budget world, tons of sh*t is guaranteed to go wrong. You’re going to be married to that project for sometime, guaranteed.
HN: Well what’s on the horizon for Michael Hoffman? What can chiller fans most eagerly anticipate?
MH: Right now? Uhhh temporary retirement (combined laughs). I don’t know that’s a good question. I don’t know if I want to take the next two years and put something together believe it or not. It was three years before I directed something before Girls Gone Dead. Believe it or not I really enjoy editing. I’ve been contacted by a few people with possibilities of working in post production. I think for the next few months, a short, short time off from the film world and going back and doing some commercials and stuff to pay the bills believe it or not. It’s crazy though. I would love to do one more horror picture and I definitely want to do a comedy. I’d love to do a musical. But that’s neither here nor there. I work for Bongiovi entertainment
HN: There’s actually an adaptation of Night of The Living Dead opening up on stage I the New Year, most excited to check that out.
MH: Awesome, awesome. Guess what I have tickets to when I’m in New York? I have tickets to see Re-animator the musical with George Wendt. I’ll be seeing that Tuesday night.
HN: Awesome well I hope all goes well in New York and I appreciate you taking the time out of your hectic schedule for this Michael, best of luck with Girls Gone Dead as well.
Interview: Michael Hoffman – Director (Girls Gone Dead)