Wednesday, October 03, 2007

AFF Filmmaker Interview: Alex Orr

Alex Orr's hilarious black comedy/satire Blood Car is making its Austin Premiere at AFF on October 13th at midnight at the Dobie Theater. Read critic/filmmaker Toddy Burton's interview with Alex to discover more about indie horror, squirting blood and the influence of Roger Corman:

How did Blood Car develop from story to screen?

In September of 2005 Adam Pinney, Hugh Braselton and myself were in the car together throwing around ideas. Specifically today, ideas for horror movies because we heard a local guy sold his movie and we had seen the film and weren’t very impressed. We were bouncing ideas back and forth, stuff taken out of the headlines- like Sam Fuller plotlines and someone came up with a car that runs on blood. That sounded like it had potential and we all kept at it that morning and after lunch had a solid outline. Adam and I began on the screenplay that evening with Adam writing the first act in a mater of hours. Shortly after we got into the writing process (which consisted of passing scenes back and forth and trying to come up with more jokes and a third act) I was bitten by a house cat and had to spend about a week in the hospital where I wrote several scenes under the fog of heavy pharmaceuticals.

The script was finished about 2 weeks after we began and instead of passing it around, asking for opinions and revising it- I took a feature film in NYC to earn enough money to make the film. We shot the script we wrote, but in the editing room Adam Pinney and I wrote the final script because we changed many scenes, lost an entire subplot and did 3 days of reshoots. .

In writing the script both Adam and myself tried to stay away from plotlines and scenes that the audience would expect and then grow tired of. In addition to writing an entertaining film with an absurdist political undercurrent we chiefly wanted to keep people in a story that wouldn’t go where they expected it to.

You have a fair amount of credits to your name, and have worked as everything from cinematographer to assistant director to actor, but this is your first time directing a feature film. How did you make the transition to writing/directing?

My intentions have always been to be a writer/director since film school. But since I knew no one was going to write some inexperienced kid a big check to go make a movie I have been working in the film industry to learn about how the set functions and to primarily meet people and make contacts that could allow me to make a film with very little money.

I met most of the actors and crew that are in Blood Car on other films that I was a gaffer or AD on. Most of my acting credits are from people not showing up to set and someone throwing me in.

Sometimes to my disadvantage, I’m a really pragmatic person. I want to know how long it really takes to do something, if we can really put a camera in a certain spot-that kinda stuff, I really have been concerned with the logistics of filmmaking. Sometimes that means I get an idea and I know immediately that it will be impossible for a small production to accomplish that feat and I throw it out.

So if you are working in another department and want to transition into writing or directing- go get a DV camera and shoot some shorts. That was what I had done before Blood Car in that area. I would usually keep it pretty simple and just have a camera and some actors. Just to learn about the process of taking something from the page and getting it to the screen was a huge help. Also writing and directing and editing your own shorts help you treat your script like it was written by someone else, and edit your footage like it wasn’t shot by you- by that I mean that you can’t hold onto every word of your script or an awesome shot that was hard to get on set. You have to have an end product that works- that’s has been an important thing for me to learn.

Blood Car seems to pay homage to early Roger Corman films, particularly movies like Death Race 2000 or even Rock and Roll High School. How did these films influenced you?

I love Roger Corman stuff. I was obsessed for years by any movie that could hold an audiences’ attention without having a large budget so I watched a lot of those films. Blood Car is really influenced by a Corman movie called Bucket of Blood. In this movie a guy wants to get chicks and where he works all the chicks like artists. So he starts making sculptures but the sculptures are just dead bodies with clay over them. It’s a terrible film but the idea is really funny to me.

As far as approaching a wild B-movie asthetic- it was easy. We had no money so it looks cheap….because it is cheap. But you don’t need money to pull the gags we did, you just need the nerve to do it. I think that Blood Car would have never been made with a large budget just because of people’s fear of everyone not liking it. I think that’s the point. If I make a movie in the hopes that everyone can like it and no one will be offended, then I’m making middle of the road crap and I don’t really wanna watch or make that stuff. Satire is meant to provoke.

As for satire, that’s what I really love. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite films ever made and the silliness with which they treat very serious issues is used in Blood Car quite a bit. But satirical elements have always been in horror movies. Genre films can get away with working in the genre and sliding in satirical plotlines. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has that whole thing with the kids running out of gas and it was made just after the gas crisis in ’73. Don Seigel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is probably the best example of a B movie with big ideas. There are tons and tons of these films, one of the more recent is The Host. Satirical films are just a joy to watch and read into, and even more fun to write. Balancing horror or another genre with very established conventions with satire is the easiest I think. I think films like Little Children and Election have a much tougher time getting people to look deeper into the film to see what the filmmaker is driving at.

You’ve got a lot of fun gross out special effects in Blood Car. How did you pull off all that blood?

We squirt a lot of blood on this movie. About 60-70 gallons I think. To get the blood to properly projectile we used fire extinguishers filled with blood and air pressure. There is one effect in the film in which a man gets his legs chopped by the blood car. For this we used a small thing that looked like a pony keg, it held more blood and air pressure than a fire extinguisher. We were able to split the hoses and shoot blood from all around the actor. We also burn a character alive, shoot some people, and hit a guy with an axe. All of it is on the cheap, just using editing and basic tricks. Some of the effects we did just bombed but lucky they were associated with a subplot we lost quickly in editing.

One of the best effects in the movie is when the lead character, Archie, takes his own blood to test the Blood Car. He does this with a box cutter and a plastic tube. The effect works really well and even made a kid at the Sarasota film festival faint.

For make up we had to constantly match the amount of blood people had on them because we shot the film out of sequence. It’s a pain but not too much trouble for a good make up person and we definitely had one.

What we would basically do with the effects is write the effect we wanted and then try to find something close to that in another film and see how they did it, or we would get together with the production designer (Robert Paraguassu) and the blood team (Blake Myers and Will Sanders) between us we designed some of the effects or we would just use photoshop for things like gunshots.

How did you cast the movie?

The parts of Archie and Denise were written specifically for Mike Brune and Katie Rowlett. Adam and I have worked with them so much we tailored the parts for them. Its easy to write characters like those with a specific actor in mind.

Originally Lorraine was written as a morbidly obese Jewish girl but we changed it for Anna. Some of the other actors like Matt Stanton, Vince Canlas, Hawmi Guillibeaux, John Green and Marla Malcolm I worked with on other projects and really liked them. It wasn’t hard putting people I knew into parts, part of thinking about the characters to write them dialogue was thinking about who could play them.

I met Mr. Malt (carjacker) on the set of his music video (his rap group is the Scoundrelz) that I was the gaffer on. Adam Pinney was actually the Best Boy on that video and he got hit in the head with a light and had to go to the hospital. We both remembered that Mr. Malt had a great attitude and a really great look. We met with him and even thought he hadnever acted he killed the part so we cast him on first read.

Casting the children in the classroom was a mix of Craiglist and message boards and family and friends’ children. All of the random background agents are the crew. Instead of worrying about casting those parts we would just keep a suit around and throw someone in it when we needed an agent. The two goofball agents in the control room are played by Adam Pinney and myself; we really didn’t want to be in the movie but we shot those scenes as part of our pickup days. We got the idea after the fact and didn’t really want to cast or write lines so we did it ourselves and made it up as we went.

What's next for you?

I’m writing a movie about little league baseball. I just produced a short film written and directed by Mike Brune that I’m sure will have a great festival run. It’s a really interesting short with great performances and amazing camera work by Adam Pinney. We are developing a script by Hugh Braselton called Depth Charge, which is the story of a man whose life falls apart in four acts. Its comedy with elements of Raymond Carver and John Cheever in it. On November 6th the Blood Car DVD will be released so I’m gearing up for that too because we have lots of special features to finish up so we have a DVD full of info and entertaining bonus features. I believe that Mike Brune has raised the bar on DVD commentaries to a new level.

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