Lance Weiler is the director of two critically acclaimed independent horror movies, The Last Broadcast and his most recent film Head Trauma. On top of that he’s also the founder of the Workbook Project, designed to give aspiring filmmakers an understanding of funding, production, promotion, and distribution in a digital age.
I recently had the chance to ask Lance some questions about his career and in particular his latest cinematic venture Head Trauma.
What’s the reaction been like to Head Trauma? Has it lived up to your hopes?
The reaction to the movie has been amazing. It has exceeded my expectations. Both critics and fans have embraced the movie. The fact that we made seven top 10 lists for 2006 and that I’ve been getting tons of emails from fans who are discovering the movie as well should give you some idea of how well the film has been received.
I spent over three years making it and a lot of that time is spent in a vacuum, so you’re never sure what the reaction will be. You always hope for the best, that people will respond and not only has there been response but the amount of doors that Head Trauma has opened are amazing.
One of the key factors in the film’s creepy atmosphere is the sound design. Did you pay particular attention to that and do you feel that it’s an area often underused by horror directors?
The sound design and the music really blend in Head Trauma. I really wanted the sound be a character within the movie and we spent a lot of time discussing and prepping for the score. Tim Nielsen, the sound designer, and Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey, the composers, did an excellent job of creating the fractured world of the movie’s protagonist, George Walker.
Brian and Amy started making audio sketches while we were still shooting. They traveled to various shooting locations and recorded actual sounds within the house. Later they would create music using those sounds. It was important to have a non-traditional score, one that would blend the nightmares and reality. Tim Nielsen started early as well. He did an amazing job of bringing the sound design to life. I want to make every movie with Tim, Brian and Amy.
While the film has similarities to Polanski’s Repulsion (an isolated individual going insane) it also has things in common with recent Japanese horror films like Ringu. Was this a conscious (or even unconscious) influence? Are you a fan of the modern wave of Japanese horror?
I really enjoy the works of Polanski. I’m a fan of Repulsion, The Tennant, Cul-de-sac, and Knife in the Water. Head Trauma even mentioned in the same sentence as Repulsion is an honour. I’m also a big fan of Asian horror. I’ve been to Japan a number of times and enjoy their culture. Some of the most interesting horror films are coming out of Asia, in my opinion. In some ways I think they owe something to the works of Polanski and the other atmospheric horror films of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Unlike many recent genre films Head Trauma, while not having a conventional happy ending, does have a sense of catharsis. Was this your aim from the start or just how the story evolved?
The ending was always intended. In a sense the movie is about redemption and in some ways is more of a psychological film than a horror film in the traditional sense. The comic that George finds in the phone booth foreshadows elements of the story. I’m interested in exploring complex characters and like films where you travel with someone and experience some type of transformation.
Do you see independent horror films as the cutting edge of the genre, willing to take risks while Hollywood plays it safe?
I think in a lot of ways some of the most cutting edge work is coming from truly independent horror films. There are also a lot of independent films that are trying to copy what Hollywood is doing. The digital filmmaking revolution has opened the door to the tools and now many different types of people can step behind the camera to tell their stories.
Horror is an exciting genre when people use it for a purpose. It is a great genre for subtext, but often subtext is replaced with a desire to do what somebody will think will sell. I’m excited to see what is coming from the underground both hear in the states and overseas. There is some really great work surfacing and I hope that continues.
What are your feelings about the current state of mainstream horror cinema? I find it disappointing that up and coming horror filmmakers like Alexandre Aja (Hills Have Eyes) and Rob Zombie (Halloween) are reworking old ideas. How do you feel about the current trend towards remakes (or reimaginings) and is there a film you’d particularly like to remake?
Too many remakes and not enough character and story development. It feels formulaic and over-thought in the wrong ways. Like more thought is put into the marketing and promotion than the actual script.
Remakes aren’t my thing unless it’s a film that has been lost or was an amazing story but missed the mark for some reason. I’m not into the remaking of movies that were well made to begin with. I’d rather see an original story from Rob Zombie that the remake of Halloween.
At this moment in time I can’t think of a film I’d like to remake, but I can think of a number of films that I’d love to see re-released in theaters. For example Pretty Poison, Black Sabbath, and Jigoku would be nice to see on the big screen.
Comics play a key role in the film. Are you a comic fan and how did legendary Swamp Thing artist Steve Bissette become involved with the project?
I love comics and graphic novels. I’ve collected them since I was a kid. I’m really drawn to the independent comics. For instance I love Charles Burns’ work; Black Hole is amazingly haunting.
Steve was a fan of my first film The Last Broadcast and we struck up a friendship around that. I’d been a big fan of Swamp Thing when I was a kid and was familiar with Steve’s work. Steve had stepped away from comics and I had often thought about using comics in my work.
Once I had the concept down for Head Trauma I approached Steve and asked if he would consider inking something for the movie. It was an amazing experience working with Steve and his son Danny, who also inked some of the comic. It was an organic process that happened over a year or so and I’m thrilled with the results.
On a comic related note, towards the end of the film we see Julian reading a Spider Baby comic. Is this an homage to the classic Jack Hill film?
Good eyes, you’re the first one to catch that. In fact there are a number of hidden things through out the movie. Some of them are foreshadowing elements and others are just nods to films. Spider Baby is really one I can’t take full credit for. It is the name of Steve’s label. He self-published a lot of his own work and the works of others.
You will no doubt have been asked this before but I have to ask. How do you feel about The Blair Witch Project – is it “there but for an innovative Internet advertising campaign go I”?
There is so much written on this question. And Stefan and I have been asked about it so many times. I have no regrets or hard feelings. Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast will be forever linked. In the end we summed it up in The Last Broadcast – is it fact or fiction, you decide. For those who want to judge for themselves, The Last Broadcast has been released in a new collector’s edition to celebrate its almost 10-year anniversary. It has new commentaries, new bonus footage and a remastered version of the movie.
Unlike big budget movies, small independent films require the director to be far more involved in marketing the film. Do you see the Internet as a key tool for the independent filmmaker?
Without a doubt the Internet is a key tool. Filmmakers that aren’t embracing the Internet are missing out on a cost effective tool for marketing and promotion. Not to mention that very soon digital distribution will be more of a reality. For those who want to go DIY (do it yourself) they will be able to fund, produce, shoot, edit, promote and distribute their own work. That’s what we did for TLB and what I’ve done for Head Trauma. In fact I feel so strongly about the subject I started a free filmmaking resource called the Workbook Project. it is a social open source project for filmmakers that shows them how to make and distribute their own work.
Your first two films have both been horror. Do you see yourself as a genre filmmaker or would you like to try your hand at something else?
I love making psychological films. There is something great about mining dark material and mixing it with subtext. My next film will be in the horror genre.
After that I’m not sure, it really depends on what story I’m interested in telling. Since independent films take a couple years to make I want to make sure I’m passionate about whatever I’m making. In the end that’s what keeps you going.
Lance Weiler, thank you and good luck.
Is War, Inc. a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank? March 23, 2007Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves, Film News , 6 comments
Is John Cusack’s new film War, Inc. a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank? There seems to be very little information about the film online but what there is leads me to think this could be a follow-up to the 1997 cult favourite.
IMDb has this to say about the plot –
“…is set in the future, when the desert country of Turagistan is torn by a riot after a private corporation, owned by the former US president, has taken over the whole state. John Cusack plays the role of a hit man, who suppresses his emotions by gobbling down on hot sauce and is hired by the corporation’s head to kill the CEO of their competitors. Everything changes when the ruthless killer finds himself head-over-heels in love with a sexy reporter.”
This sounds more than a little stupid (a spicy sauce guzzling assassin!) but at least one thing seems certain – Cusack is playing a hit man just as he did in Grosse Pointe Blank.
And there’s more –
Cusack wrote the script for Grosse Pointe Blank something he’s only done with two other films – High Fidelity and War, Inc. Two out of three films about hit men or should that be a hit man? IMDb lists no character name for Cusack in the film.
John’s sister Joan appeared in Grosse Pointe Blank as his secretary. She’s back in War, Inc but again there is no character name listed.
The film is also known by the working title Brand Hauser: Stuff Happens which is frankly too awful to be real.
Not convinced? Check out this pic of Cusack with co-star Hillary Duff –
Looks a lot like Martin Q. Blank to me but then again maybe John just thinks all hit men wear black suits.
I’m probably way off base with all this but I hope I’m not. Apart from the fact I’d enjoy seeing Martin Q. Blank again, it’s a much cooler name than Brand Hauser. All will be revealed when the film is released later this year.
Tom Cruise Vs Paramount: Who’s Telling The Truth? August 24, 2006Posted by Ian W in : Film News , add a comment
Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruise have parted company and it would seem the split is anything but amicable, with both sides claiming they instigated the parting. So who, if anyone, is telling the truth? Let’s have a look at the evidence.
Over the past year or so Cruise has come under fire from the media, for several reasons, most notably acting like a fool while professing his love for Katie Holmes on Oprah and being out spoken about the use of certain prescription drugs. This, Paramount have claimed, has affected his pulling power at the box office and caused them some embarrassment as well. While if can’t really be disputed that Cruise hasn’t done his public image a lot of good, just how much has if affected his star pulling power? Not a lot in my opinion. Lets remember we’re talking about Hollywood here, I don’t think a few red faces is going to put a major movie studio off, only money will do that. And in the embarrassment stakes Cruise definitely takes second place to Mel Gibson.
If you look at Paramount’s most successful films since the year 2001 that didn’t star Tom Cruise, you see an interesting pattern –
2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider No15
2002 The Sum Of All Fears No24
2003 How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days No29
2004 Lemony Snicket’s No18
2005 The Longest Yard No12
Paramount haven’t had a top ten box office hit without Tom since 2000 when What Women Want came in at No4 (and the top film that year? Mission Impossible II.) What makes Paramount’s case even funnier is that War of the Worlds a film they pointed to as having its box office takings affected by Cruise) had a worldwide gross of almost $600m, making it Paramount’s biggest hit (based on money taken) since 1997 and Titanic. Even the ‘failure’ Mission Impossible III will almost certainly finish the year in the ten biggest earners.
It seems Paramount needed Cruise far more than Cruise needed them. A major studio needs to score a top 10 hit and without Cruise Paramount have failed to do that.
So what what’s the answer to that question in the title? Probably neither, but then it is Hollywood after all so you can hardly expect honesty. What it probably comes down to is that they couldn’t agree on a new deal and now both want to claim it was their decision. It’s like when you break up with a girlfriend - would you rather be the dumped or the dumper?
I can’t see this affecting Cruise’s career very much; although he may do a smaller film next (possibly the remake of The Eye.) Paramount on the other hand need to find themselves a major star and a vehicle for him that will be a box office smash if they want to continue to be taken seriously as a major studio.
Mother Of All Dust Devil DVD Releases! July 26, 2006Posted by Ian W in : Film News , add a comment
Subversive Cinema have announced the specs for there Region 1 DVD release of Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil. To say they sound good is a bit of an understatement. See what I mean -
• Dust Devil :The Final Cut: 107-minute version with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound
• Audio commentary by Stanley and Hill
• Stanley’s production diaries
• A Demon Reborn: The Final Dust Devil featurette
• Making of Dust Devil featurette
• Trailer for the long-lost 16mm version of Dust Devil
• Bonus CD: Dust Devil soundtrack by Simon Boswell
• 114-minute reconstruction of the Dust Devil work print, in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with 2.0 stereo sound
• New Dust Devil comic book by Phil Avelli, story approved by Stanley
• ‘Voice Of The Moon’ documentary about Afghanistan, with commentary with Stanley and Hill
• ‘The White Darkness’ documentary about Haitian Voodoo, with commentary by Stanley and his production diaries
• ‘Secret Glory’ documentary about the search for the Grail and the neo-Nazi movement, with commentary by Stanley and Hill and Stanley’s production diaries
This release easily tops the current Region 2 DVD and must rank as one of the best Special Edition releases ever put out. I’ve never seen any of Stanley’s documentaries before but ‘The White Darkness’ and ‘Secret Glory’ sound fascinating. I’m glad I held off buying the current UK release as this is a must have.
Stanley’s film for those of you who don’t know is a unique take on the serial killer genre and a visually stunning piece of cinema. This is a limited edition of only 10,000 so get yours quick. With a recommended retail price of a mere $29.95 (and no doubt this will be discounted by a lot of e-tailers) there really isn’t any excuse is there?
Now if only someone would release Hardware….
Comic Book movie sequel news… July 23, 2006Posted by Ian W in : Film News , add a comment
Dark Horizons have reported some interesting news on the Batman and Hulk sequels-
The big Batman news is that Heath Ledger has allegedly been offered the part of the Joker in the next film.
Now Ledger is a good actor (although I can’t think of anything he’s been in that I’ve really enjoyed) but he lacks the flamboyance needed to portray the Joker. I think Paul Bettany or even Adrien Brody would have been a better choice but after Batman Begins I’m willing to accept that Christopher Nolan knows what he’s doing.
He’s yet to make a bad film and I’m eagerly awaiting The Prestige due out later this year.
Now this is very good news. Louis Leterrier the director behind The Transporter films and Jet Li’s Unleashed will be directing the sequel.
I’ve yet to see Transporter 2 but based on the other two films he’s a director who knows how to make an action movie, and that’s just what this film needs. Ang Lee is a great director but he was always a bad choice for Hulk, trying to make it fit his style of filmaking rather than fit his style to the film.
According to Leterrier the new film will do for Hulk what Spider-Man 2 did for Spider-Man. There’s no news if Eric Bana will return but I hope he does as it will give the film some sense of continuity. The budget is reported to be over $100 million and there will be a lot less CGI this time. And that may be a good thing.