Friday, July 29, 2011

Drew Rosas (Blood Junkie)


What I love about independent filmmaking is the passion of those film's creators. This website is almost entirely dedicated to low-budget movies because those are the true feats of the film industry. I've left writing gigs at more than one website because I didn't care for their catering (read: dick sucking) to mainstream films and their studios or the fact that they consider anything about Transformers actual news. I would easily (and stupidly) turn down an interview with Michael Bay because I don't give a shit about explosions or how "difficult" it was to shoot his next billion dollar film, no matter how many visitors or monetary gain it would garner for this site. I enjoy real people making real films, and I couldn't be more pleased to bring to you an interview with Blood Junkie writer and director, Drew Rosas.

Filmed on a shoestring budget of roughly seven grand, Rosas has made an intensely enjoyable film because of his love for the genre as well as his love for filmmaking. Watching Blood Junkie is a true delight because everything from the witty writing and exceptional casting to the stellar soundtrack and true 80s feel were all created with care and love, and its limited budget was definitely put to better use than most of the Hollywood films we see today. So without further ado, continue on to read what Rosas had to say about the 80s, fake pubic hair, how to pretend-kill a frog, and the trials and tribulations of making your first feature film.

Drew Rosas (left) with Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman

TMLP: First off, how were you introduced to film and the world of horror as well?

DR: Like many lifelong filmmakers, I picked up my dad's VHS camera when I was about 10 years old and made my first video project. I caught the bug and it never left. My dad was a master of the 2 VCR dubbing. He used to edit "bad" parts out of R-rated movies so we could watch them as kids. For years, I had never seen the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It cut straight from them opening the Ark to filing it away in the warehouse. Anyway, I pick up the craft of editing from my dad and never stopped making videos with my friends. In many ways, Blood Junkie is the ultimate homemade movie. I started watching horror when I was about 14. I  used to ride my bike to the local grocery store that had a surprisingly well stocked horror movie selection and rented everything I could get my hands on. They never really scared me though; I was always more inspired by the special effects and I wanted to make my own.

TMLP: I was born in 83, so I spent most of my growing up in the 90s, though I still have fond memories of the era. With Blood Junkie being a throwback to the films of the 80s, could you share your personal experiences and memories of the popular decade?

DR: I used to hate the 80s when I was growing up in the 90s. Everything from the decade seemed so fucking stupid to me as a young teenager obsessed with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. It wasn't until I got to college that the magic of the 80s really dawned on me. Now I see the 80s as the strangest US decade for pop culture by far. Everything from the fashion, music, movies, and politics is so fucking weird. I think it is the peak of our cultural weirdness and I still can't believe people got away with that shit. Blood Junkie is my tip of the hat to a decade that is the middle child of decades. I also got really sick of watching horror remakes of classic 80s films amped up on modern day effects and losing everything that made the classics classic. I decided I would do the reverse and make an 80s style film today.

TMLP: The abandoned glue factory that serves as the film's labyrinthine chemical plant is remarkably beautiful. I had read that you used to break into abandoned buildings for fun to take photographs of them. What was it about this location that made you say "I have to shoot a movie here one day" ?

DR: I was wandering alone and taking long-exposure pictures by myself. On the other side of the building, a couple of my friends were throwing these glass bricks down a giant hole in the floor and smashing them on the cement. I was a ways away, so by the time the noise got to me it was a terrifying reverberation of the sound. It actually sounded like something a professional sound designer would create for a horror film trailer. There I was standing in the dark, taking super creepy photos and listening to this haunting noise. I vowed to come back make a horror film there. I didn't actually return until about 4 years later to shoot Blood Junkie.

TMLP: Was it difficult getting the owner's permission to film inside of the building? I would assume that many people would be a bit hesitant to allow visitors inside of abandoned buildings, either due to safety concerns (or lawsuits) or because they want some sort of compensation for it.

DR: I was shocked that he let me shoot there. Finding him was so hard that I actually gave up completely and was scouting other buildings, but nothing was even close to the glue factory. So I made another attempt to locate him and he was very excited about the project. He told me several ghost stories that he and some of his employees experienced at the building. He was a businessman and was excited to learn about the film industry and see my passion for the project. I think I just won him over. I actually ended up shooting a video for him later that year in Florida. We were flying around in his personal helicopter and shooting footage of a fleet of septic trucks that he owns. Then 6 months later he died when that very same helicopter crashed into a mountain in the Dominican Republic after the earthquake in Haiti. He never saw the final film.

TMLP: Your film was made for only 7000 dollars, which is an amazing feat considering how great the final product is. How was the budget decided and what was most of the money spent on?

DR: The largest expense was buying and fueling the old Station Wagon in the film. I worked as the Art Department Coordinator on Michael Mann's Public Enemies. I saved pretty much all of the money I made and that was the budget for my film. The only way I was able to shoot a feature this cheap was using the incredible film community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to film school here and I have a ton of friends that are artists, fashion designers, filmmakers, musicians, carpenters, etc. I was just really good about assigning tasks to talented people and getting free help and favors, so all I really needed to spend money on was food, gas, props, some locations and materials.

TMLP: For such a low budget film, especially one that's your first full-length feature, did you encounter any Terry Gilliam setbacks when making Blood Junkie? They always say that your first project is the most difficult...

DR: I knew going into this project that it would be a learning experience. That is partially why I did an 80s style film, so those "Terry Gilliam" moments could be tweaked into the 80s B-movie genre and turn into an intentional attribute of the style. If an actor was struggling with delivery on a line...fuck it, move on, we'll over dub it later and it will look hilarious. If something was completely unbelievable, fuck it, keep moving. It's a B-movie! Anything goes! From the beginning, I approached the film like grad school. I had made a ton of shorts in the past but I knew I needed to throw myself in the deep end to really learn how to make a feature. And $7000 isn't too bad for a grad school education.

TMLP: For a film titled Blood Junkie, there's surprisingly very little violence in the film. Was this ever a budget issue, or did you care more about letting the film's story and characters take control?

DR: Well, the film was originally titled Rocky Trails. This title probably fits the dorky 80s nature of the film better but it was pretty nondescript.  I sent a DVD to Troma and they got back to me right away and said they wanted to pick it up, but that they wanted a new title; something that would jump out of the screen a little more. A lot of the time, people don't see any info of a film other than the title and I saw that they had a good point. The nice thing is that they let me come up with the new title, and my friend Andrew Swant brainstormed "Blood Junkie "for me. I was very happy with it.

TMLP: Speaking of violence, Troma, known for its absurd gore and penchant for bad taste, distributed the film. How did they come into play with Blood Junkie, which is the furthest from a film of Troma's infamous schlocky caliber?

DR: This film wasn't produced for Troma but rather produced independently and picked up by Troma after the fact. A good friend of mine, Frankie Latina, had been in contact with Troma about distribution for his feature but never made a deal. At my cast-and-crew premiere, Frankie handed me a piece of paper with a name, address and shirt size written on it. He told me to mail them a DVD and a T-shirt and drop his name. Three weeks later I was negotiating a contract.

TMLP: In many low-budget films, the acting usually suffers because the filmmakers use close friends as actors. In Blood Junkie however, the cast seems to be completely relaxed and fully embodied in their roles, particularly the guys who play Craig and Teddy. Was there a casting process for the film, or did you know Nick Sommer and Mike Johnson previously?

DR: I shot a short film with Mike Johnson a year earlier for a 24 hour film contest. It was really fun and we got 3rd place. I always had him in the back of my head for something bigger. Nick Sommer came on kind of last minute. I was in a jam to find the right Craig Wilson and a mutual friend recommended him. We barely knew each other and met for lunch. I explained the project and he seemed really pumped about it. I asked if he was available for this one specific weekend that was already planned. He said yes and I was in such a time crunch that I just gave him the role without auditioning him at all. Because I build the film into this 80s style from the get-go, having "professional" actors didn't really make sense. I was never going to have the types of performances you would get from a Hollywood cast, so I wrote that into my film.  Instead of being a setback like most low budget movies that are trying to be Hollywood movies, using non-actors became and asset. Nick always said that Craig Wilson was basically like being himself without any filters on. He would just say the repulsive insane shit that came to mind instead of censoring himself like he does in real life.

TMLP: I've always been fascinated by body doubles in film. I didn't realize until the end credits that another actress played "Rachel's Boobs". Did Laura use a body double as well for her strip scene? Is it strange for actresses using a body double and for the filmmakers having to direct just a nude woman in the replacement shots?

DR: I always want everyone to get naked in my films. But I also don't want to push people if they are uncomfortable. The ladies didn't really want to get nude and they were my friends and some of those scenes were written after they had signed onto the project. So I said fuck it, I'll just get a body double instead; it might even be funny. So I shot all of the nudity in California with different girls. A funny story about Laura's double that changes in the woods is that I made her attach a fake 70s bush to herself. This was basically fake rabbit fur that you buy in the craft section of Wal-Mart. I cut the right shape out and we attached it with double-sided tape. It kept falling off with her panties and we had to shoot it a bunch of times to get it right. We were both laughing a bunch and it actually made it less awkward.

TMLP: This is one I have to ask for myself...how was the frog scene shot and executed?

DR: Well, if you listen to the commentary on the DVD, I explain that and a lot of other stories about the film. This is basically the good ole "arrow through the head trick". I carved a stick. Removed a section with a saw. Drilled a hole in each side and attached a strong and slightly bendable piece of wire. Kept my eyes open for a toad for about 2 weeks on scouts and shoots. Caught a toad. Kept it alive in a tank for 3 weeks, feeding it insects. Took it into the woods and placed it in between the two section of my stick. Kept the wire completely blocked from the camera by the toad. Then squirted the little guy with some fake blood. We let him go unharmed in a beautiful forest much nicer than the abandoned chemical plant from where he came.
 
TMLP: The indoor settings and props truly give the film a legitimately 80s feel. Were you just lucky in finding your locations, or were there massive makeovers given to the sets?

DR: My favorite is the 70s style house that Emily is working out in at the beginning. This was built by some architect in the 70s and has just been passed along by hipsters ever since. My friend Brian lived there and I went to a party there once. The TV viewing scene, Laura's Bedroom, Teddy's bedroom and the Slow-Mo Male bonding scene in the basement were all shot at Mark Borchardt's family home outside of Milwaukee. If you watch American Movie, you will recognize the fake wood wall panels from a number of scenes in that film.

TMLP: You previously mentioned to me that you composed about 50% of the soundtrack, which is an awesome throwback to 80s synth-pop scores and Nintendo music. What influences were hovering when you and the other composers sat down to write the score?

DR: Video games for sure! NES and SNES-era games like Zelda and Megaman. Clearly my biggest influence was John Carpenter on many levels of this film. I did a bunch of research watching 80s movies before this and that inspired a lot of the music. Movies like Chopping Mall, Heathers, everything by John Hughes. Also, Miami Vice.

TMLP: With a lot of films trying to capture the grindhouse style of filmmaking and ultimately failing (the film Grindhouse included), what do you think it is about Blood Junkie's style that has successfully captured the hearts of many fans and film critics alike?

DR: Well I'm honored. And I actually really like both Rodriguez and Tarantino's Grindhouse movies (even though they are not actually grindhouse films at all, but something different all together). If I had to take a guess I would say that Blood Junkie succeeds because we didn't fake it. It's hard to describe. We weren't trying to make a joke or a gimmick out of the grindhouse style. Rather, that is the only style at which I could succeed with $7000. The actors believe what they are saying! They are not telling jokes about the genre even though they should be. They are playing it serious. That is what the original grindhouse films did. A lot of the remakes are more like a wink to the grindhouse style. We were actually broke, making stuff up as we went along; non-actors, with borrowed equipment and borrowed time. Essentially, I tried to put myself in exactly the same position as a low budget horror filmmaker in the 80s and hoped that a similar result would emerge.

TMLP: The film's ending seems to have a bit of commentary hidden beneath it about desensitization in youth. Was this intentional? Did you have an ultimate message that you wanted Blood Junkie to sneak in throughout the hilarity and violence?

DR: Only vaguely. I actually have strong ideas about youth culture both today and from the past, but the film uses this more as a common undertone found in 80s horror rather than a legitimate commentary. The undertone is there to basically say, "Be careful, the things you watch on TV are not so far from reality when you are trapped inside of an 80s horror genre."

TMLP: So, what's coming up next for Drew Rosas? Do you have any immediate plans for another feature?

DR: Actually, funny you should ask. I'm fundraising for my next feature Horror film Billy Club right now!

Billy Club Synopsis:

Four little league teammates reunite after fifteen years and try to solve the mystery behind a horrible killing from their childhood.  A mysterious letter sends the gang on a mission to unearth the grave of their old coach and prove that their incarcerated friend is innocent. Little do they know that the real killer is stalking them in the nearby woods and hungry for their blood!

A mind-bending journey into the world of a serial killer, Billy Club brings a terrifying new vision to independent horror cinema. 

Billy Club Website
Kickstarter Page
Facebook Page


TMLP: Finally, one of my favorite questions: What did your family think about the film? 

DR: I was a little worried about this too, but actually... my parents have been incredibly supportive. They both drove from far away to attend the premiere in Milwaukee and they are both contributing to my next horror project. I guess they realize that this is what I'm going to be making for a while so why not help out? 

TMLP: We really appreciate you taking the time to fill us in on your journey with Blood Junkie and independent filmmaking. Is there anything else you would like to add for the readers? 

DR: Help keep independent horror cinema alive and bleeding! Pledge your support for Billy Club at kickstarter.com 

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