The following Interview with Jason Christ is the second in a series of three pieces we are running featuring the talented people behind Wicked Pixel Cinema. If you are unfamiliar with this Missouri based group of filmmakers take a moment and read what they have to say about making movies and the challenges faced by independent producers today.
Jason, like most of the folks at WPC wears many hats in his position as Vice President in charge of production. His credits include Acting in films such as Ratline
, and Bizarre Lust of a Sexual Deviant
, Directing the films Savage Harvest 2 : October Blood
and The Quiet Place
, acting as Cinematographer, Editor, Camera Operator, Still Photographer and Grip. In short he has his hands in almost every aspect of the production process. I have always been taught that if you want to know how to do something, and do it right, you had better understand each process in the evolution of the finished product. Jason Christ approaches films like this and it shows in the craftsmanship that goes into each WPC production.
- As Vice President in charge of production and creative development at Wicked Pixel you have your hands in every facet of the making of films. How'd you come to find yourself in this position and what does a VP of Production do?
I guess I made the transition to VP due to the number of years that I've been with the company and my level of production experience. I have a certain level of production experience from work I've done outside of Wicked Pixel Cinema and I bring that experience with me to the company.
I assume there must be some kind of value in that otherwise I'm sure Eric wouldn't have put that level of responsibility on me. I really don't have a set list of responsibilities when we start a new production. It's constantly evolving and they change with each new film that we do.
I basically have some kind of creative involvement during the development of projects, either directly working on the screenplay or having an active dialog during story meetings. From there, I usually assume some kind of production role. Even if I'm working a production as an actor, I'm usually involved in basic production duties such as finding and securing locations. Once the film is in the can, I do whatever is needed to help move the film along during the entire post-production stage. For example, after Ratline
finished shooting earlier this year, I took on a lot of the online marketing on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to help get the word out about the film.
I basically oversee as much as I can and do whatever is needed for a film that's currently in production specifically and for the overall well-being of Wicked Pixel Cinema in general.
- You began your directorial work on the "Making of" Ice From the Sun with Eric Stanze; this was also your on-screen acting debut. How did you go from being cast as "Matt" in the film, to directing the making of a feature for the DVD?
My role in Ice From the Sun
was a supporting role, so that left me with ample time to help out in other ways during the production.
I had some video production experience under my belt, as did Todd Tevlin, another member of the Ice From the Sun cast. Eric presented the idea to Todd and me to cover every aspect of the production of Ice From the Sun for a documentary to give to the cast and crew. The documentary turned out so well that Ice From the Sun's original home video distributor, SRS Cinema, decided to give the project its own release on home video.
I don't think all that many people saw the documentary during its initial release, so it's very gratifying to see it get released on the recent two-disc special edition DVD from Image Entertainment. Aside from this and the documentary I made about China White Serpentine
, I haven't dabbled too much in documentary filmmaking, but I would like to again someday.
- Since you've done just about everything involved in making an independent movie, what do you think is the toughest job on any set, which are your favorite parts of the creation of a film and what are your less than favorite parts?
That's a tough one. Every production role comes with its own set of unique challenges
Ultimately, I think the director has the toughest job. A good director has to be conscientious of every facet of the production, from the performances, to the shot composition, to every detail within any given shot, and how each shot will function in the final edit of the finished film. He or she has to be cognoscente of all of these things all of the time for the length of the entire shoot. It can be an extremely overwhelming experience.
For me personally, I love the pre-production and post-production phases of the production. When you set out to prepare the film, it's fun to explore all of creative opportunities of the story. You are limited only by your imagination and it's fun to amass the cast and crew that are going to come together to make the most out of the creative avenues you've explored when writing the script.
When you're in post-production, you again have complete and total control. The rigors and stress of the production are gone, and you enter an almost meditative state with the footage and it's extremely gratifying to watch all of the hard work finally come together into a (hopefully) cohesive film.
To be honest, I'm not always the biggest fan of the actual production itself. Sure, it's great to see the cast and crew at work to bring the material to life. I can recall many occurrences on set where a magnificent performance or a creative solution to a technical problem has resulted in moments of pure magic.
Perhaps the best part of the production is the family that is formed. All of these different people, friends and strangers alike, come together to go to war, against all obstacles, with a shared common goal of making the best movie possible. Yet in spite of all of this, it's these obstacles that really push you to the limits and bitch slap your endurance. Whether it's bad weather, scheduling conflicts, temperaments that occasionally flare up from the stress of the production, or faulty equipment that ruin footage, all of these things can add up to make production a very tiring experience, but you just have to remind yourself of the goal that you set out to accomplish in the first place.
The pain inflicted by the production always fades once the shooting is complete and the final film, hopefully, will remind you that it was all worth going through in the end.
- In the 2001 feature Bizarre Lust of a Sexual Deviant, you played the lead "Scott Loomis". In that part, you were required to do full frontal nudity. How comfortable were you with that aspect of the part and how do you feel about it now?
Oh boy. Where do I begin? To be honest, I've always been indifferent about this project.
It was my first role after Ice From the Sun, so naturally I was interested in working in the project, even though the nature of the project was sketchy at best. After all, it was a fast and cheap production for another company based out of New York. It was designed simply to be a fetish piece for a very specific audience.
We ultimately decided that we wanted to try to make it more of a traditional movie, though that decision came late in the game. In the end, the first cut of the film that was released on VHS back in 2001 was a slipshod piece of work: a film that had too much story to work as a fetish piece and too much fetish material to work as a horror film. Yet for some reason the film found its audience and become a best seller.
When the time came to release the film to DVD four years later, we decided to shoot new material to expand the story, mainly with my character of Scoot Loomis. I thought this was a wonderful and unique opportunity to revisit a character and take it in new directions. We set out to show what makes this character tick, instead of having him just be this bland, cardboard cutout of a character that was wandering around in the first cut of the film.
As an actor, I really wanted to show the depths of despair this man was dwelling in. It was I that approached the producers about having a scene or two in which during Scott Loomis' bleakest moments he would appear naked. It was a valid choice in my mind. I thought it was the best way to show how emotionally raw the character was.
Of course, in a knee-jerk reaction, I quickly had my doubts about the idea. I started to change my mind. After all, it's one thing to have an idea. It's another thing entirely to actually do it. Up to that point in my life, I had an extremely bad self-image. I didn't want to put myself in a position for people to take cheap shots at me. I came to later realize that I was working with wonderful people that were there to support me and that I owed it to myself to take a few chances with the roles I take as an actor.
It's a very powerful and liberating thing to take risks with your art, or any discipline in your life for that matter. Yeah, we were making a cheap exploitation flick, but that doesn't mean attention can't be paid to craftsmanship. I only go around once in this lifetime and I decided to not let my inhibitions detract me from what I was setting out to do as an actor for this project. So the time came to do the nude scenes. I came to set, let the clothes fly and did my job and it was a wonderful experience. Everyone on the set was very supportive, so that safety net really eased my inhibitions so I could focus on the task at hand.
This isn't to say that I'm going to start doing porn or anything. I'm pretty sure there isn't a long line of people waiting to see that, and yes, there were people online that said some unkind shit about me. That's to be expected I suppose, but that didn't detract one bit from my positive experience in being involved with this film or about the choices I made as an actor. It really opened my eyes to the fact that it's always good to push yourself beyond your comfort zones. In doing so, I think you can grow into a more, well-rounded human being.
On a side note, the DVD of Bizarre Lust of a Sexual Deviant has a very unique hidden bonus feature: the original cut of the film from 2001. You can see how the project has evolved between the two cuts of the film and how the final cut of the film really benefited from the additions that were made.
- In 2007 you stepped behind the camera to make the short The Quiet Place, based on a poem by Rebecca Kennebeck. The film is comprised of 35 millimeter stills. What lead you to take such a unique approach to filming this piece, was it the poem itself or something else, and how did you go about making the film?
I think the technique of shooting the film on 35mm stills grew out of necessity. I wanted to make a film, but I didn't really have the money to shoot the film in a traditional manner and I didn't want to fuck around with production hassles like lugging lights around and making sure I have good location audio.
I've always had a quirky sensibility to me and I thought it would be fun to tackle this project in a non-traditional way. I had a poem from my friend Rebecca Kennebeck (who starred in the original Savage Harvest
) and I tried to think of the best way to tell a story with this material.
Instead of doing a direct translation of the material, the poem became the backdrop of a story about a woman named Hope (played by Julie Farrar, a wonderful actor who went on to play a role on Savage Harvest 2: October Blood
), a woman adrift in an ocean of bad memories and regret. I got to thinking about the essence of memories. Our lives are basically a series of moments, much like a collection of photographs that capture specific moments of our past. I thought it would be interesting to have the entire story conveyed visually in this manner. It also helped me artistically validate my decision to shoot the film the way I did.
When I set out to make to the film, I approached it like I would any film, but since I was shooting stills, I had to think about each and every frame. I knew going in that I probably wouldn't be able to get 100% fluid motion from my actors, like if I were shooting stop-animation. I had to approximate how many frames I would need to convey the motion I wanted. Of course, since I was shooting on film, I had to wait to get the prints back from the lab to make sure I got everything I needed. Even when I got all my prints back and I was happy with the results, I still wasn't sure if they would cut together effectively.
About 70 rolls of film and 1,000 stills later, I had to go through the task of scanning each and every single print. These prints would be taken to Photoshop for cropping and cleanup to remove any specs of dirt or scratches from the scan. I then imported all of the images into the Avid for editing. This is where things got interesting.
I had all of these stills and now I had to create movement with them in the editing. How do you create movement out of stills? How do you determine the flow from shot to shot to create a sequence that tells the story? Well, it was really through trial and error experimentation. When I started adding sound effects, music, and the narration, I was able to more clearly find a cutting rhythm with the images. It was a wonderful exercise in editing.
Overall, I'm very happy with the film. It was a chance for me to fuck around and mess with conventions, which is something that always interests me. I'm not sure if people dig the film. It's available on the two-disc special edition DVD of Savage Harvest 2, but a lot of times critics tend to not mention the film in reviews. It doesn't matter. I'm proud of the film and I'm glad I put myself through the often times frustrating, yet extremely rewarding experience of making it.
- Directly after The Quiet Place you moved on to direct the sequel to Eric Stanze's Savage Harvest. How did you end up in the director's chair for this project?
I created that opportunity for myself.
At the time, I was really hungry to get another feature-length project off the ground. I had made a few feeble attempts at making features in the past (that will never see the light of day if I have anything to do about it), but over the years I had made several short films of a more professional quality. I wanted to make a feature that would hopefully reflect that quality.
I had started to develop some ideas for a script, but for some reason I got a wild hair up my ass to make a demon-possession flick. I've always been a fan of such films as The Exorcist,The Evil Dead, Night of the Demons, as well as the original Savage Harvest.
I thought it would be an awesome idea to take somebody else's original story and attempt to take that to an entirely different level that would satisfy my needs as a storyteller. So, I threw together some ideas and presented them to Eric. I think he was a little taken aback that someone wanted to do a sequel to one of his earlier films, but he ultimately gave me the green-light and the support to take the material and run with it. I'm forever grateful for that support.
The making of Savage Harvest 2 was a very difficult road for me to travel, but also an extremely invaluable learning experience that I'll never forget.
- Do you find the transition from acting to directing an easy one? Does being on one side of the camera help you or hinder you when you move to the other side of that camera and is it difficult to go from taking direction on what needs to be done to suddenly find yourself as the go-to guy for everything?
As anyone who has worked on an independent film can tell you, you often find yourself working multiple production duties at the same time. On Ratline
, I was a co-writer, an executive producer, an actor, and I jumped in to help with any other tasks when I was needed.
I've been making films for over ten years now, and my eyes have really been opened to the fact that many facets of film productive are interconnected. The more well-versed you are in certain facets of film production, the stronger your skills become in other areas of production.
I love acting and directing equally and for different reasons, but I find that the more I act, the better my skills become when it comes time to direct. Of course, it really helps me working with a professional like Eric Stanze. He's very open with his working process when he's on set. Thinking about things such as shot composition has a direct impact on how I give a performance.
When I direct, I often keep an actor's sensibility in the back of my mind that helps me better work with actors. In the end, even though acting and directing are completely separate disciplines, they share a lot of common ground that makes it rather easy to transition between the two.
- Where would you like to see Wicked Pixel go in the next ten years as a production company and what role do you want to play as the company moves in that direction?
I think Wicked Pixel Cinema will keep on doing what it's always been doing from the very beginning: creating entertaining cinema that defies expectations. Every film in the Wicked Pixel Cinema catalog is different from the next and I hope that we continue that tradition in the future.
The company has made some tremendous strides over the years with minimal resources. I think for the company to continue to grow it's going to need some proper funding. My desire is that we start securing more substantial budgets to push the company up to the next level.
My role in all of this will fundamentally be the same as it is now, but it will evolve in new ways to meet the new challenges that will face the company as we continue to grow as filmmakers.
- New technologies have made it easier to produce independent film. Do you think Indies are still difficult to distribute and to market? And of course, why?
Yeah, new technologies are definitely a mixed blessing in my eyes. Sure, the advent of digital video has made the process of filmmaking more accessible to the masses. People can now gather up some friends and inexpensively shoot their own movies. Unfortunately, the end result of this is that the marketplace is now flooded with a lot of amateurish productions.
Since the marketplace is so damn flooded with these digital flicks, a filmmaker has to work even harder to make his or her film stand out from the competition. Furthermore, most companies simply don't have the resources to market these movies.
It's resulted in an evolution of sorts for the filmmaker in terms of marketing. The filmmaker must utilize a multitude of online avenues, such as social networking sites like MySpace or Twitter, to help maximize a film's chances of reaching its intended audience.
- Where did your desire to make films originate, does it run in the family or were you influenced by something as a child that inspired you to pursue film?
I grew up in the country and I spent an inordinate amount of time by myself, so I think I developed an overactive imagination as a self-defense mechanism to keep myself from going insane.
Years later, during the home video boom of the mid-80s, my parents opened up a video rental store, which eventually became my first job. I guess it was only a matter of time before I attempted to make movies of my own.
Films are some of the few things in this world that make sense to me. I'm not saying that I'm especially good at making them, but the process of making films seem to segue into my thinking processes and how I choose to communicate with the world quite naturally. I've always responded to films that have a voice, whose creator(s) offer a perspective of the world that may differ from my own.
As I've gotten older, I can see that I have my own unique voice and I'm happy that I have a venue for it. Of course, I'm not using films to be didactic or anything in how I see the world. I simply love the notion of being able to create stories and share my point of view with the rest of the world. If people watch my work for a glimpse of my perspective on life, I'm grateful beyond words. If people simply watch my work for the entertainment value, I'm fine with that as well.
- What do you feel are the most commons mistakes independent filmmakers make, and what can be done to avoid them? As you developed as a filmmaker, what were some of your biggest gaffes or learning experiences (a much nicer term)?
I guess one mistake a lot of independent filmmakers make is the belief that the work is done after the film is finished, even after the film has managed to snag a distribution contract.
As I alluded to earlier, the work is not over yet, especially in this day and age where every week, companies are releasing low-budget digital films that nobody has heard of. Why should anyone take time out of their lives to watch these flicks? With an endless ocean of titles competing for the ADD-attention spans of the movie-watching populace, a filmmaker really has to go the extra mile to get his or her film noticed.
I think Wicked Pixel Cinema has made great strides in this over the years. We've gone to great lengths to make our presence known at horror film conventions. We've really expanded our audience considerably by making these appearances. Sure, we still have a long way to go in reaching the most people possible, but efforts like these have really paid off.
For me personally as a filmmaker, I really think honing the skills of collaboration has become an invaluable asset to me. Filmmaking is beyond a doubt the most collaborative art form in existence. I know there's the temptation to adhere to a "one man show" attitude, and I've certainly indulged in that attitude from time to time, but the rewards of collaborating with quality artists yield far more satisfying results than if I kept up a stand-offish attitude.
- In order to help finance your upcoming film Ratline, you've taken the uncommon route of offering fans a chance to get their name on the film's credits by contributing money toward financing. How has this worked out, both pro and con?
Well, we made Ratline during some rather difficult economic conditions. We all felt that despite the current recession, we had to push forward to get another film out there. Despite our enthusiasm, we've naturally had an extremely difficult time raising funding for this film.
In coming up with various methods to secure the funding that we needed, we thought it would be cool to offer the fans of Wicked Pixel Cinema, or fans of independent films in general, the opportunity to have a direct impact on the movie by making contributions in exchange for onscreen credits. We have received a lot of positive responses and people have nabbed a piece of the action by throwing money into the production.
Alas, even with the best of intentions, the recession has still made it difficult for people to take the plunge and spend their hard-earned cash on Ratline. The production managed to move forward and Ratline is wrapped and is being prepped for post-production, so it's not too late for people to become involved. Since the film has wrapped production, this is actually the best time to become involved with the film since it's already in the can. That anxiety over the risk of whether or not the film will complete production is gone.
So, any and all interested parties should strike while the iron is hot and nab a piece of independent film history for themselves. For more info, go to http://www.wickedpixel.com/ratline
for the official Ratline website which has information about how to make a contribution.
- The last and always a Wild Card question: If reality and fantasy were to suddenly invert, and all of your films became reality, what character would you most like to meet or be, and why? Conversely, which of your films' characters would you least like to meet or be?
That's a tough one to answer because obviously there's a little bit of me in all of the characters I've played.
I'm the normal average guy like Matt from Ice From the Sun
. I can be a bit of a sexual pervert like Scott Loomis from Bizarre Lust of a Sexual Deviant
(although not to the extent as seen in the film... just want to point that out). I can be a bit of an asshole when I get my fur ruffled like Eli from The Undertow
. I can even be a bit of a goofy moron like Dorcus Cunningham from The Christmas Season Massacre
. With every character I've played, there's an aspect of me coming through, even if those characters push those elements of who I am to varying degrees beyond the norm.
I guess if realities got switched, I'd more closely resemble Matt. I see Matt as just this average dude and that's pretty much what I am. I just happen to dig making movies. My character of Frank Logan from Ratline would have to reside on the opposite side of that spectrum. This is a character that is very chameleon-like, switching from an innocent, jovial, everyday guy to a monstrous, soulless, murderous being in an instant. It was a blast to play. It was the most out-of-body experience I've ever had as an actor.
Again, with every character I play, there's a piece of me coming through, and it scares me a bit that Frank Logan came to be from somewhere in my psyche, but the character is so far removed from who I am in real life that I can sleep at night.
KillingBoxx Note: Thank you Jason for spending some time with us! Jason can next be seen in the upcoming feature Ratline, stay tuned to the boxx for news about its release or for screenings at a location near you.