1. How did you come
up with the idea for Slashers? It's such
an awesome concept for a horror movie.
When I wrote Slashers
in 1999, the big reality TV wave had
not yet hit. But I had seen a clip from a Japanese game show called, "Endurance," where contestants were put through hell to win prizes (being buried in ice for
as long as possible, drinking huge amounts of liquid then being hit in the
stomach and trying not to pee, etc.) and all previous death game films I had
seen (Running Man
, Death Race 2000
, etc.). They were always involuntary
participants (prisoners, innocent bystanders, etc.) and I thought it would be
interesting to have contestants be on a life and death game show willingly for
all sorts of reasons (fame, money, etc.) as it had not been done before.
2. Did it take you long to write the script?
The writing went very quickly, it took only about one month.
It flowed out rather easily, once I had the concept and chose my characters and
sent them off into the game.
3. Were you
influenced at all by Battle Royale? They're obviously very different films, but I couldn't help notice some
similarities like the neck collars and the Japanese aspect. I imagine it's just a coincidence, but it
seems like you must be a fan of Japanese cinema. Is that true?
At the time I was writing Slashers, Battle Royale had not
come out, and I actually only saw it 2 years after I finished the film. I was
awestruck by some of the similarities (the cute, peppy hostess). As for the
collars, they were also in a 1992 film called Fortress, and it seemed logical
for me that the producers needed to have control over the participants so it
was an easy solution. As for being a fan of Japanese cinema, well except for a
few ghost films (Ringu, Ju-on), a few Kurosawa, and a bunch of Godzilla flicks, I had not seen that many Japanese films.
4. How were you able
to get all the Japanese actors for the opening of Slashers?
did not have many Japanese residents (Vancouver
has tons) so most of the extras were from other Asian countries. I used a
casting agent and just gathered as many Asians as possible. Very silly idea to
try and do this on such a low budget.
5. You mentioned in
another interview you'd like to do a sequel or remake to Slashers but the
rights are tied up with the original distribution company that went bankrupt so
it'd be too difficult to get them back. Can you elaborate on why it's so complicated?
Well, I had signed away the rights to a production company
called Blackwatch that then signed them away to a numbered company in
conjunction with a British company. When they all went into bankruptcy, a
completion bond company took over but went bankrupt as well after the film was
finished. It would be too expensive of a legal hassle to try and figure who
owns what anymore. It would take a Hollywood
with millions to want to do a remake to be able to afford to sort things out.
6. Is there anything
fans can do to help?
No, not really. Although there are lots of similar films that
have come out since.
7. I really liked the
performances in End of the Line especially Neil Napier and Emily Shelton. Did you do any rehearsals with your actors?
Unfortunately, I did not have the budget to do any
rehearsals with my actors (as with Union actors, rehearsals days are paid as
well), but I was lucky that the cast I got was professional and did great under
8. Do you think
directors should rehearse with their actors before filming? Why or why not?
Well of course any rehearsal time would be beneficial, it
would give you time to polish the dialogue, work out any kinks in the scenes
and save you time on the set.
9. What do you think
is the key to working with actors?
Casting is 90%. If you chose the right actor with the right
look and talent for the part, most of your job as a director is then to do some
slight fine tuning. They will make you look good. So of course, if one day, you
have the luxury of working with great actors (Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis,
etc.), you will look like a genius.
10. Stanley Kubrick holds a Guinness World Record for 127 takes of a single scene on The Shining (source). Fincher did 99 takes for the opening six-minute scene of The Social Network (source). How many takes did you do for the
dialogue scenes on End of the Line?
End of the Line was shot quickly. Most of the time, 2-3
takes maximum. A few scenes had more, but I think 8-9 was tops. For Slashers, since it was a bunch of long continuous takes with so many variables, it was usually
around 18 takes.
11. Do you think it's
a good idea or a bad idea to do so many takes with your actors (assuming, of
course, you have that luxury)?
Well it always depends on why you are doing another take, if
you’re doing takes because other elements were not well prepared (sound mike
goes into shot, or other technical glitches) or because you don’t know what you
want from them and keep saying let’s do another take with no indications on
what to try differently, the actors will get justifiably angry and will burn
out. It’s best to try and get what you want in a few takes so the actors’
energy level will still be high.
12. What do you look
for in an actor?
That he fit the role, be talented, professional, on time,
off-script and courteous to the other cast members and the crew.
13. The scores to
both Slashers and End of the Line are excellent. What is your process like for working with
your composer Martin Gauthier? How do
you tell him what kind of music you want? What kind of guidance do you give him? Do you send him examples of other scores you like that may be similar to
what you're looking for or does he just go off and create something by himself?
Martin is a close friend, and our collaborations on the
score were always pleasant and very fulfilling. We would discuss which scenes I
would want scored and with what type of music, then once I heard what he had
done, would make suggestions or sometimes use it elsewhere in the film. The end
result of the music scores was always one of my favorite things about my films.
14. You went to the
American Film Market to sell your film. What was that experience like?
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and
It’s absolutely depressing. The AFM is where you see the
ugly side of moviemaking: the business side. Sales agents are all sharks that
feed on indy filmmakers. They will literally rape you and ask you to pay for
it. Everything is very expensive there and unfortunately it is not a place for
15. Do you think
other independent filmmakers should try to go to the AFM? It seems pretty
expensive just to attend it, much less advertise and market your film there.
There is no short answer to this question. Unfortunately
whatever advice I could give from my own experience (and from many other indy
filmmakers that I shared war stories with) is useless as people do not want to hear
the hard truth.
The bottom line is films like The Blair Witch Project,
Paranormal Activity and a handful of others are “lottery winners.” All other
indy productions will lose most, if not all, the money that was invested in
them. Sales agents and distributors have just too many devious tricks of the
trade they will use to never have to pay out any money to indy filmmakers. You
would not believe the number of filmmakers whose films were released on DVD by
BIG NAME distributors and they never got a dime. I’m sorry to say that it’s
almost guaranteed to be a no-win situation financially if you’ve invested your
own or your family’s/friends’ money in the making of a film.
16. Do you have any
advice on how to sell the rights to your film at the AFM? How did you go about it?
Once again this is a big question. But to simplify things,
let’s put it this way: it does not matter what any contract says. The only
money you will ever make on a film is money that is wired directly to your bank
account BEFORE you gave out a master copy of the film. That is it. End of
story. If you can come to an agreement directly with a distributor for an
upfront dollar amount for a territory for your film and get that amount wired to
your account, that is the ONLY way to make sure you see a few bucks. But in the
last 10 years, offers have shrunk for DVD
rights (because of illegal downloads, etc.) for indy films, and because there
is a GLUT of product, as everyone and his cousin can make a film now because of
the new digital technology. So distributors have the luxury of choice and
getting things very cheap.
17. How you were able
to get your film released in Japan? Did you negotiate that yourself with a
distributor or was that handled by Anchor
Bay or a sales agent?
I handled all the sales myself and negotiated the price with a
Japanese distributor I had met at the AFM (where I had rented a booth with a
few other filmmakers). As I mentioned, DO NOT use a sales agent!
18. Were you able to
get any money upfront from selling the foreign rights? Any tips on countries to
If you mean before the film was shot, the answer is no. Almost
no one pre-buys anymore and especially not for indy films. If you meant once
the film was completed, yes, all my deals were upfront as it is the only way to
see a dime. You will never get any royalties. That is not a joke.
19. Do you think
independent filmmakers should get a sales agent when they have a completed
film? Why or why not?
If your goal is to make any money at all, the answer is no.
Sales agents will screw you out of ALL the money the film might make. If you
just want the film to be distributed, the answer is yes. But make sure they
don’t make you PAY for any deliverables, E&O insurances, etc. Give them the
film and kiss it goodbye. You won’t get any money, but at least it will be
distributed if that is what you want. You can not get both distribution and
money from a sales agent.
20. I was really
shocked to read even a company like Magnolia wouldn't give you any cash upfront
for End of the Line. I'm glad Anchor
Bay actually came through. If indie filmmakers are lucky enough to find
a distributor willing to give a cash advance, can you tell us roughly how much
we could expect?
Well, even if I gave you the amounts I got for End of the Line, prices have plummeted since I sold the film 7 years ago. I got $50k from Japan,
with an equivalent film today, you’d probably be lucky to get 5k to 15k.
21. Were you able to
get any money upfront when you sold the rights to Slashers?
I was not involved in the selling of Slashers as I did not
have the rights.
22. You said you got
screwed over in the past from distribution deals. Can you explain what happened? I've been told unless you get money upfront, you'll
never see a dime from a distributor because of creative accounting and other ridiculous practices.
That is absolutely true. Creative accounting, among many
other dodgy things, is an unfortunate reality of the film business. Hell, even
big Hollywood companies, will say that The Lord of the Rings trilogy did not
make any money and did not owe any backend profits to Peter Jackson (he had to
sue, and only succeeded because they wanted him for The Hobbit). There are just
too many ways (legal and illegal) that sales agents and distributors use to not
pay indy filmmakers. Here’s one example: for Lady of the Lake, I unfortunately
signed with a sales agent to handle foreign sales. They then sold it to a dozen
countries for $39,900, coincidentally just under the amount they were allotted
for expenses which was $40,000. So in the 12 years they have had the rights to
the film, I made $0. Later I found out this is a very standard practice by
devious sales agents and their crafty accounting. They basically sell a bunch of
films together to various distributors and just cross loop the amounts to all
the films they have the rights to (and are allotted expenses for to promote,
etc.) so they always have nothing to pay out. It’s legal robbery. So let’s say
a distributor really wants your film and is willing to spend $25,000 for it. The
sales agent will throw in the deal four other films for next to nothing, but
then will divide the amounts between each film, always insuring that they will
each be under their recoverable expenses amount. That way, films that would not
have sold anything, still will sell the total amount of the recoverable
expenses but nothing more. So they pocket all the money and the filmmakers get
nothing. Most indy filmmakers are not business savvy and all the ones I’ve met have ALL been screwed. All of them.
23. It seems like
traditional distribution is pretty bleak for independent filmmakers. More and more directors are saying how they
didn't make a dime on their film despite getting widespread DVD
and Netflix releases. What do you think
about self-distribution through services like Kunaki, Distribber, and Distrify?
Yes, it is bleak. Never heard of or tried Kunaki, Distribber
and Distrify so I have no opinion on them.
24. What are the most
helpful books you've read on filmmaking or screenwriting?
I guess Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew.
25. What's the best
independent horror film you've seen? Any
recent indie horror movies you were impressed by?
There are just so many: Night of the Living Dead, The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, Martin, etc. All are fantastic indy horror films.
Even Halloween can be considered independent (if the definition of indy is non-Hollywood-studio
Recently, I loved Kill List.
26. What's the most
important piece of advice you'd give an aspiring filmmaker?
1) Write something tailor made for a low budget (few actors
2) Make sure your script is ready and really tight, as you
don’t want to shoot anything you will later cut out (time and money wasted).
3) Don’t spend your own money. You’ll never get it back. But
if you absolutely have no other choice make sure you budget an amount you can
easily accept to never get back and then think that you will probably have to
spend about 40% more for unforeseen expenses. Then look at the amount, and be
true to yourself, can you say goodbye to that money. If the answer is yes, then
go into pre-production.
4) Get professional actors. Whatever extra you spend will be
worth it, they will make your job easier and make you look like a better
director. Use a casting agent, if needed, to find them.
5) Get professionals for key crew (lighting, camera, sound,
costumes, sets, makeup).
6) Make sure your locations are easy to access with
available parking and low noise.
7) Once you start shooting, make sure you get your film
completely in the can. You don’t want to have to run after people for reshoots
or unfinished scenes.
8) If you’re producing, do NOT hand over your film to a sales
agent. Accept only upfront cash deals. Because you will NEVER see any royalties
and/or back-end money. No matter if it’s a prestigious name company or not.
Look at it as a drug deal. Both of you hold guns on each other. The buyer holds
the money and you hold a master copy of the film. Then you do the switch. Never
keep your eyes off the other guy until you’re paid. It’s better to walk away
from any deal, no matter how good it seems, if they do not pay you upfront, as
you will always hear the classic excuses. “Send us the master and we promise
we’ll wire you the money next week,” etc. Don’t fall for it.
9) Don’t give up. You only have one short life. If this is
something you need to do, do it!
10) Don’t listen to what anyone says, especially me :)
If you haven't seen End of the Line or Slashers, you should definitely buy them. They're excellent examples of the best independent horror has to offer. Special thanks to Maurice for doing this interview.