Thursday, 1 March 2012

Interview with Chris LaMartina

Chris LaMartina is a talented young filmmaker from the Baltimore area. He’s already made five independent feature films. Chris has worked with horror icon George Stover on several projects. His current movie WITCH’S BREW is getting great reviews. It was great to talk to Chris about his passion for independent filmmaking. 

What inspired you to make movies?

I've always been interested in storytelling. Some of my earliest memories are demanding my Aunt sit down at her typewriter (this is the late eighties), and I would dictate goofy 'scary' stories to her. We found some these tales a few years back, and they don't make much sense... half of them start with "It was a dark and stormy night"... but they were good foreshadowing of things to come.

When I was 11, I stumbled across the family camcorder and began producing little shorts, trying to emulate the films I love (mostly horror). As I got older and more interested in micro-budget horror, I realized that making cheap features was a reality and I figured out a game plan on how to produce my own.

What are some of your favorite films?

My favorite film of all time is "Harold & Maude". That might be a little shocking to hear looking at the films I produce, but that's the truth. Outside of that, I love eighties American cinema (especially horror flicks) because that's what I grew up on. Some of my favorites are "Monster Squad", "Fright Night", "Return of the Living Dead", "Night of the Demons", and "The Blob" (88)... stuff like that. Besides genre stuff, I greatly enjoy social satires, political documentaries, and a good romantic comedy (totally not joking).

Why horror?

I've always been attracted to horror. Exploring the unknown, the dark, and mysterious has always been a vice of mine. Plus, there are a million different avenues to tell scary stories. Horror is such a broad genre that has somehow been 'ghettoized' by popular culture... perhaps because it's primal and exploitation. That's why I love it, though. It's honest... in a world where most things aren't. I love the ugliness. Usually, I inject my horror with humor as a coping mechanism. Horror takes real world anxiety and filters them through a lens of escapism.

What was your first feature length movie?

My first feature, which I shot during breaks in college, was an uber cheap (total budget - $300), horror anthology flick called "Dead Teenagers". It was produced as an attempt to see if I could finish a long term project that could get distributed (which it did). It was definitely a learning experience more than anything else. It's not the best flick, but there are some cool moments. It's just so cheap to me now (which is fine, really, but I don't generally talk about it anymore). I'm happy with a lot of the ideas we pulled off at such a low budget, but my storytelling is primitive in comparison and a lot of the acting is painful... which is mostly m y fault as a director/producer is. We shot it on a consumer camcorder, lit with Home Depot work lights, and recorded audio in-camera. It's definitely uber-cheap, but it still makes me smile when I think about the experience of making it.

How many movies have you made?

To date, I've produced five features: "Dead Teenagers" (2006), a horror anthology, "Book of Lore" (2007), a mystery-thriller, "Grave Mistakes" (2008), a campy EC-comic style anthology, "President's Day" (2010), an eighties-style slasher comedy, and "Witch's Brew" (2011), a gory horror comedy about cursed beer.

I produced "Dead Teenagers" by my lonesome, but all of the rest of which were co-produced by my best friend/business partner, Jimmy George. Jimmy also co-wrote "Book of Lore", "Grave Mistakes", and "President's Day" with me. He's the unsung hero of Midnight Crew Studios (our production team).

How did you come up with the idea for WITCH'S BREW?

Right before "President's Day", Jimmy and I realized the power of a 'high concept' synopsis (a one-sentence pitch that sells your story). From that point forward, every idea we pursued HAD to be describe in a single sentence. It was crucial to selling the film to a distributer and ultimately: an audience. So, we started coming up with titles first and then, when we had a title that sounded cool, we'd come up with a log line to support it.

I was interested in writing a film about witchcraft and had the title, "Witch's Brew". So, I asked myself: what would a movie called "Witch's Brew" be about? Cursed beer, obviously! The possibilities for story lines were endless because of the wide range of avenues when it comes to alcohol consumption. Hell, most people watch horror flicks with a cold six-pack by their side. I could see the DVD drinking game already! It made sense.

WITCH'S BREW is getting great buzz. Do you prefer to make something different than the average horror flick?

Like most artists, we want to stand out. We've always valued our stories above all else. I don't care what the "it" camera is or what format you're shooting on. The most important part for us is the story and I think that's what we do try to differently than other filmmakers. Sure, we understand the value of the sex/violence content, but excessive gore and nudity isn't enough to make a flick stand out anymore.

At the same time, I also borrow a lot of energy/aesthetic from the films I grew up on (mostly eighties-style horror flicks). So, I can't say we're completely original because we pay homage whenever it's appropriate. Generally, however, we try our best to reverse expectation when it comes to familiar territory. The job of every good screenwriter is to reverse expectation... when it makes sense.

You are on a limited budget. How do you get so many people to act in your films?

Very rarely do we get to pay folks who act for us, and usually it's only people who do nudity. In all honesty, there's little money for us to budget on talent. We don't make much money off of these films (making films does NOT pay my rent) so we can't afford to squander the dollars we could be spending on catering, props, equipment, and f/x. Plus, plenty of actors will work for free for the exposure factor and usually we do a favor trade or two (i.e. cutting an actor's demo reel or getting them work on a "bigger" or "pay" project). The most important thing, however, is to still find talented actors. We always hold casting calls and value the auditioning process. We're not just giving roles to our friends. That's one of the biggest problems with micro budget productions.

How did the premiere of WITCH’S BREW go?

The "Witch's Brew" premiere went fantastic. It was a huge premiere, the audience response was great, and I had a wonderful time. We showed some Lost Trailer Park: Never Coming Attractions (my faux-trailer web series) installments before the flick and everyone ate it up. It was fun night out. I always find premieres especially inspiring because you can finally see an audience feast on the fruits of your labor. I love coming out of the theater and hearing folks talk about their favorite moments or characters. That's what keeps me going.

What's it like working with horror movie icon George Stover?

I lovingly refer to George Stover as my "third Grandpa"... a moniker he dislikes because it makes him feel old. He's a very sweet, funny, and warm man. His support for our films over the past few years has been unrelenting and I literally ask him every time I write a script what "kind of role" he’d like play. I have a lot of respect for him and I know that's mutual. He reached out to us initially, after catching a screening of "Book of Lore". What a lot of people don't realize about George is that he is a huge genre fan. His house is full of movies, posters, and memorabilia. He even collects 35mm and 16mm film prints. As a former projectionist myself, I have a special kinship with George. He rules.

Baltimore has produced some great independent filmmakers like Don Dohler and John Waters. Do you think you are following in their footsteps?

I wouldn't say I'm following in their footsteps per se. I think my films are departures from the tone of a Waters film or Dohler flick... but that's not to say I don't love those guys. I definitely grew up watching both artists tell their type of stories, and I respect them immensely. The affection for Dohler films over time is especially interesting to me. I loved them before it was ironic or hip to love them.

Speaking for myself, Baltimore is my hometown (I was born and raised here) and I love it. It's so weird, strange, and charming. You can walk down the street and run into a dozen genuine characters (not just young people trying to be eccentric) and I find that very inspiring. I value the history of exploitation and horror films here because I see those filmmakers as spiritual ancestors. There’s immense cultural significance in using the same places and actors that my heroes used before me. When all is said and done, I'm happy to be a footnote in the enormous book of low budget filmmaking.

What's next for you?

Man, I wish I could tell you. We have two horror screenplays we're developing for ourselves (can't give out names/concepts just yet), and we're writing a more serious horror screenplay for a buddy of ours in L.A. The big problem for us right now is our lack of financial resources. We can't continue to make micro-budget films without getting real investors (up until this point, most of our films have been self-funded), and that's a bit intimidating to us. Still, if we make another feature (and trust me, even if it KILLS me, we're going to do another), we're going to have get investors behind it. It's a matter of time, really. We have to find the financial backers. So... on that note.... would you like to invest in our next feature?

I kid, but if anyone reading this has deep pockets and love for horror comedies, holler at us.

Teaser trailer for the upcoming splatter flick, "Witch's Brew" - written & directed by Chris LaMartina. Synopsis: Two microbrewers screw over a coven of witches and in turn, the coven curses their latest batch of beer. From that point forward, anyone who drinks the cursed alcohol meets a gruesome ironic demise.

Novelist David Kempf
About the interviewer:
David Kempf has written over fifty short stories, many of which deal with themes of horror fiction. He has won several writing awards including first place in the short story competition of Millersville University's Lemuria magazine. Two of his short stories were selected in the 2007 publication of The Grackle, his graduate school's literary magazine. David is featured on two short fiction websites, one American and one British. He holds an M.S. from Chestnut Hill College and a B.A. from Millersville University. David resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife and his son. Dark Fiction is his first novel. His latest book The Petsorcist mixes humor and horror.

You can find out more about David Kempfs new book and also buy at the following links