Monday 1 April 2013

Interview: Adam Ahlbrandt (Cinematographer, Writer, Editor, Director, Actor, Producer, Composer)

Today I´m talking to Adam Ahlbrandt, he´s the cinematographer, writer, editor and director of CROSS BEARER (2012) and THE CEMETERY (2013).

J.L: How did you get into film making?
A.A: I first started making films on my fathers VHS camera. Just playing around with my brother and our friend Shawn making wrestling videos. That was when I was about 5 or so. Flash forward a few years to when I was seven and I got a babysitter who was more than a bit neglectful... She let me watch The Shining, The Exorcist and New Jack City. That's when I became obsessed with horror movies. I wanted to scare someone as bad as The Shining scared me, I couldn't go to the bathroom without my dad checking behind the shower curtain for two weeks! I started making horror movies with my new babysitter, Jay Shively, who to this day I have to thank for being the coolest dude ever. He would take the VHS footage we would shoot and edit it, add titles and music... He really started me along the way to making films.

J.L: What are some of your favorite films?
A.A: Some of my favorite films are: Friday The 13th Part 2, Slumber Party Massacre, Prince Of Darkness, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, The Exorcist, Strange Brew, Caddy shack, Commando, Twins Of Evil, 8 1/2, Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, The Goonies, Pet Sematary, Night Of The Demons, Hellraiser, Candyman, Up In Smoke, Lost Highway, City Of The Living Dead, Aguirre The Wrath Of God, Apocalypse Now, Habit, Army Of Darkness, Evil Dead 2, Henry, Dead Alive, Maniac, Laurence Of Arabia, Deep Red, Childs Play, Taxi Driver, Woman In The Dunes... This list won't end so I'll just stop and say that I love movies. All types, although mostly I watch slasher horror.

J.L: Who are some of your influences?
A.A: I am influenced by new things everyday. I try and watch as many movies as I can, listen to as much music as I can, look at as much photography and painting as I can and read as much as I can. I'd say my Dad, Henry Miller, Steve Austin, Clive Barker, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Ayn Rand, Miles Davis, the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep the world safe and allow me to dream up new ones, Joel Peter Witkin, All the people who told me to keep going, All the people who told me to give up, this list also could go on for days...

J.L: Which films and what inspired you in the creation of CROSS BEARER?
AA: Cross Bearer was made after much of the same crew shot The Cemetery. We had a hard shoot on The Cemetery but also a very rewarding shoot so we all wanted to work together again. The idea behind Cross Bearer was simple, it was originally supposed to be a very campy slasher. The screenplay followed the formula of Slumber Party Massacre and was meant to have much more tongue in cheek moments then wound up in the film. Films like Maniac, Friday The 13th Part 2, Halloween, Silent Night Deadly Night were all some of the films I had when I wrote the script. Funny enough the original title of Cross Bearer was Strip Club Slaughter.

J.L: What kind of reception has CROSS BEARER been getting?
A.A: Cross Bearer seems to have found its audience of sleaze and gore hounds. I have been getting a few angry email here and there(keep it up, I love your hate!) but for the most part I think people see it for what it is. Yes it is gory, yes it is sleazy, but isn't that what you want in a slasher movie? I don't think we're pretending that Cross Bearer is anything other than what it is.

J.L: What kind of budget were you working with on CROSS BEARER?
A.A: We had a modest 15 million dollar budget which mostly went to strippers and coke... And that's not true at all. We had what we could come up with. It wasn't a lot compared to most productions but it was a lot to us. People often try and put a number on what they spent on their film but leave out all the people who donated time, space, labor, equipment, etc to the production. How much is it worth that people went without heat or sleep? How much is a script worth? A donated meal? A skilled tech? A skilled actor? I don't put out the numbers other then to say Natalie Jean emptied her bank account and so did I.

J.L: Which films and what inspired you in the creation of THE CEMETERY?
A.A: The Cemetery was inspired by Pet Sematary originally and started out in script for much darker then it ended up. Sort of the opposite of Cross Bearer. I originally wrote The Cemetery as a very serious possession movie and as the process went along and producers got involved things changed. They wanted the film to be more in line with campy slashers or Evil Dead 2 so rewrites were in order. I love the movie it became but would also have loved to see what it would have been. Maybe they'll let me make the Pet Sematary prequel I've been dreaming of. ;)

J.L: How did you raise the funds for THE CEMETERY?
A.A: Raising the funds for The Cemetery was really an extension of the success that came from a documentary I shot for my friend Brian Iglesias. The film did very well and was even shown theatrically, then got picked up by Epix. That film, Chosin, opened the door for Brian to fund The Cemetery. Natalie Jean also put some money into the project along with myself in the later stages of the production.

J.L: How was it working on CROSS BEARER and THE CEMETERY?
A.A: Working on both films was A DREAM COME TRUE. Don't get me wrong, each had 24 hour plus days... But it's what I love to do and I feel privileged to be able to do it. There are many people who complain about the hardships they endure to make films. I won't. The work is the reward for me. I'm just lucky to be alive and in good health doing what I love.

J.L: How different are the final versions from earlier drafts?
A.A: Both Cross Bearer and The Cemetery are drastically different from earlier versions. For example, in the earliest versions of The Cemetery Sandra lured the team out to the site because she had made a deal with the demon to keep a drunk driving accident in which she killed a young man a secret. In the original version of Cross Bearer Heather was killed by Bill, the strip club heckler played by Joe Franz. We even shot that sequence!

J.L: What lessons did you learn while making respective film?
A.A: Each film had its own set of revelations. On The Cemetery it was that sound needs to be included in the scout process when it is at all possible, sorry big O! We were shooting IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE... And the entire shoot we had construction noise. BRUTAL. On Cross Bearer I'd say I learned to always be open to any suggestion, not that you have to take them but Victoria invented her character having a child to add depth to her death scene and it changed the whole movie for the better. Thanks Vic!!!

J.L: CROSS BEARER has recently been released on DVD and is available through your website. Is there any date for a DVD release of THE CEMETERY?
A.A: I have to correct you a bit here, Cross Bearer has not been released yet. We were selling a very limited number of DVDs (500) to help support our convention run. We have stopped selling them and are still actively seeking gainful distribution for both films. It's tough because we really want the films treated a certain way and released in the proper manner, but we do currently have several offers on the table so we'll see, it's all up in the air right now.

J.L: Were there any scenes that didn´t make it to the final films?
A.A: There were a few scenes that never made it into both films. In The Cemetery I cut out about 3 min of vulgar jokes during Mike and Andrea's "love making" tent scene at the producers insistence... Still got to keep the "God damn girl! You're wetter than Atlantis" line in!!! And in Cross Bearer there was a ton of slow moving dialogue which got cut out that explained the wear house and Victoria, Heather and Bunny's plan to escape.

J.L: What advice can you give someone looking to get into the industry?
A.A: I'd say that if you want to be a film maker because its your dream go for it! If you want money and fame then seek another profession. Making movies has to be the payoff, not the after party, not the sex or the drugs, do it for the thrill of crafting a new universe born out of your own mind!!! Don't listen to the haters or the doubters, because people will laugh in your face when you tell them you want to make movies. Use it as motivation. Hone your craft, learn everything you can about all aspects of film making, become self sufficient in every area so you don't have to rely on anyone else and can effectually communicate to all departments what your vision is. No one will care about your project as much as you will. Do whatever it takes to make your films as good as they can be . Sell your life, your body, all your worldly possessions, your soul if you have to, I did  Have an iron will and a positive attitude. Never give up, raise the black flag and show no mercy to yourself in the quest to make your dreams come true. You define your own success, you define your own happiness. Get busy dreaming right fucking now!!!!!

J.L: So where do you see yourself heading?
A.A: I see myself making films, at all costs and by any means.

J.L: Are there any more films in your future?
A.A: I am slated to shoot a feature this summer... All on VHS!!! Thanks Jörgen for everything, all the best in sleaze and gore!!!!

Thank you Adam for taking the time off to answer my questions.


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