with independent filmmaker Christopher Golon.
In a parade of quick-buck production
companies, hacks thinking they’re filmmakers and posers amuck, it is always
nice when we find a real filmmaker serious about telling stories and not only
loves film, but actually knows something about it. Though film schools can teach “fast food
filmmaking” and the biggest studios can put out flashy, overproduced, empty
product and pass it off like it is good, getting anything good made is much
tougher than ever and even the independent scene has been on the empty side.
Christopher Golon is a filmmaker who
has actually achieved something interesting with his new film Knock 'Em Dead, Kid, which we reviewed
as our first online-only distributed feature (see link below), so we decided to
interview the man about filmmaking, the industry, his work and why so many of
the films you are seeing are disposable….
1) As an independent filmmaker, what are current issues and problems you
are facing now that you might not have been facing a few years ago? How has digital video helped and hurt
The biggest challenge would be to
figure out where to aim your movie. What
I mean by that is with the Internet and mobile media markets expanding daily,
you have to know how to market your film and to whom. Trying to get a theatrical release is a
million to one shot unless you have name talent in your film or you 'four wall'
the film yourself [, i.e., the producer(s)/filmmaker(s) rent the whole theater out
(every seat) and charge admission on their own.
Tom Laughlin’s 1971 hit Billy
Jack (reviewed elsewhere on this site) is an example how this lead to a
blockbuster]. Digital Video has allowed
filmmakers with little to no money, like myself, to go out and make a feature. I would've loved to have shot in 16mm or 35mm
but due to the costs associated with that - it never would've happened. There's a movie called 'SMS Sugar Man' which was actually shot on a cell phone! The director was quoted as saying that now no
one has any excuse as to not having the equipment to make a movie. I totally agree - pick up whatever camera you
have available and go make something, anything. It may not be the best idea or story but it
keeps you creative. And by taking
matters into your own hands, you create your own breaks. Just try and make
something that has something to say or is somewhat original.
But the downside is, with digital video
being so affordable; this can create a glut in the direct-to-DVD marketplace of
inferior garbage. I'm not saying that I
made ‘Citizen Kane' or 'Gone With The Wind’ but I made a movie
with substance and for distributors to try and compare it to whatever
horror-comedy Joe Hack makes with his digital video is unfair. That's the problem facing low budget
filmmakers today. Everything gets put in
the same basket and compared as 'the same.' How is my film the same as all of these
torture-porn rip-offs shot in someone's basement? Just because they show a naked woman for 90
minutes, tied up in a chair, wearing nothing but fake blood, they get a
distribution deal? I could go on and on
but I'm sure you understand my point. I
took inspiration from real life and great films whereas the hacks are trying to
make a quick buck, most don't even care about the craft.
sales are down and Blu-ray is slowly replacing them because they are low
definition and the HDTV era is here. Is
the DVD market in decline and that is causing a glut or is the narrower than
ever Horror productions pulling it down?
I don't think the DVD market is in
decline. I think that the product being produced is inferior and that the
filmmakers making them try to appeal to the lowest common denominator by
providing them with blood and boobs but no story. Don't get me wrong, I think
that there are some - key word is some - filmmakers who try and make an admiral
attempt at trying to make an original horror film on DVD. But I'd say
it's as high as 19 out of 20 movies that are made, aimed at the DVD horror
market, are trash. They have nothing to say, nothing is framed with a thought
in mind, the acting is non-existent, and the overall product is just junk.
Some of these filmmakers will make some
money and move on to High-Def and continue to make junk. Why?
Because certain junk will always sell. I won't single any one film or
filmmaker out, but some of the titles are nothing more than pornography
disguised as a horror film. You take a naked girl, chase her around,
torture her, cover her in blood, show people having sex with her, and then kill
her - the end. Are you kidding me? This is a film? This isn't even
junk. It's below junk. The sad thing is people watch this! I
have read about this because when I'm seeking distribution, I'll check what is released
by a company and I am amazed. I'll read some reviews and I am
stunned. This rape-fantasy made for $5 because you got a stripper, chased
her around, etc., got distribution?!
But I still have hope that a true
horror filmmaker, with respect for the genre, will craft something that is
good, different, and scary. Not stupid, boring, and disgusting.
3) Tell us about your new feature Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid.
'Em Dead, Kid’ is a movie that came about from a mix of real life and reel
life. What I did was, I took elements from my life and I added some cinematic
flair. The script was tweaked,
rewritten, and changed a lot over the course of 12+ years. I also never had a title that stuck. 'Knock'
had numerous titles, pretentious ones like ‘Once Upon a Summer in Connecticut' (A Sergio Leone homage and a bad
one at that) and 'In the End’ but I
finally came up with the title as the story become more concrete. The script took the form closet to the
finished film in 2001, even though I'd written drafts in the 1990's - and
it came about after I had a bad experience with a producer. This is what happened: I had a
mystery-thriller screenplay that got optioned and the producer was creating a
headache with his desire to make changes to it and make it more commercial. So, I sat down on a Friday night and by Sunday
night - less than 48 hours later - ‘KNOCK
‘EM DEAD, KID’ was born. It was a
mix of previous ideas and previous drafts, but this was me writing my baby. And
it worked out. Between 2001 – 2007,
sometimes I would work on and tweak the script.
But I couldn't come up with a way to actually make the script a reality.
In 2007, I attended the New York Film
Academy in Los Angeles (where we shot on the backlot at
Universal Studios Hollywood) and what this experience did for me was to show me
that I didn’t need a huge budget to try and pull off my idea, just creativity
and ingenuity. After my thesis film at
NYFA, I looked over the script, which had been 212 pages (which would clock in
at 3 and 1/2 hours), and began to scale it down. And down it went: 165, 140, and finally about
80. What I had to get rid of, and it
hurt a lot, was the main location that I knew I could never secure without a
budget (which was an ice cream parlor where the leads worked). I removed all expensive sets, consolidated
characters (the original script had 35+ speaking parts) down to 20, and tried
to make the locations that were needed more easily accessible. I then decided to shoot in Los
Angeles, even though the script takes place in Connecticut, since the talent pool is huge,
and I had already experienced some good luck at NYFA.
I placed ads on Craigslist and LA
Casting seeking talent and a cinematographer, with the entire budget going to
the DP and the tape needed as I shot on Digital Video (with a Panasonic DVX).
We shot for a total of 3 weeks, and
I'll spare the details about problems on the set, etc., etc., after all - those
always happen on low budget movies. And
what emerged was a story about, a 19-year-old named Bret, who wants to go to
film school. And as the story opens, he
has just lost his job at an ice cream parlor, but this allows him to enjoy his
summer with his girlfriend of 2 years, some buddies he always hangs with, and
thoughts of a future to look forward to. But in the span of just a few days - he
participates in a revenge attack, with his buddies, against a guy accused of
raping a friend of theirs, and he cheats on his girlfriend. These are the two catalysts that make his
summer spiral out of control and Bret realizes he has made some bad choices.
After the hectic shoot, it was time to
edit, and for more info on that trying period, check out some of the trivia on IMDB
for the film - talk about problems. But
in the end, the film has been well received by DVD reviewers and the film won
an award at the Twin Rivers Media Fest. I
made what I wanted to, within my limitations, and for that I feel that I have
been rewarded to some degree. But I
continue to push my film and I am always seeking a site to review it and a site
that will give me an interview. And for
that, I want to thank your site for taking the time to review my project as
well as offering me this interview.
4) How were you compromised by your limited budget?
The worst thing about shooting with such
a limited budget is that you can only use what you have access to. It forces you to be creative, which is a good
thing, and find ways around obstacles but if you had the money then you'd have
more time. So, my problem was time and
money. If you had money then you’d have
more time. More time would then allow
the actors to be able to get deeper into their characters. My actors worked for free on this film, and I
commend them for that, and it's very tough to shoot a movie when you're dealing
with work schedules and if the actor has a possible paying gig on the side,
etc. Everyone did the best they could
but looking back, more time would've made the shoot much easier and a bit more
polished. I do wish I took some more
time to manage certain scenes a little better. But time restrictions put a damper on that and
you end up with what you end up with. At
times the 'run and gun' style of filmmaking helps, but other times, not so
5) You shot it in Los Angeles,
where many productions used to be made, but now less so. Why?
I shot in LA due to the enormous talent
pool. More actors to sift through, more
actors willing to make a film for free. I met with so many talented actors and what
ended up happening was that I was finding that some of them would come in and
read, creating such a dynamic spin to a character that I wrote. I didn't intend some of the characters to be a
certain way but when the script is crossed with their acting, it works. Even though I shot in late July, I needed the
weather to be fine throughout. New England is great in the summer but more humid and
more humidity means more thunderstorms and I didn't want to deal with the
elements. Shooting in LA in July - that
gave me an entire shoot filled with nothing but sun. Didn't even have to watch the weather
forecasts - sunny, everyday.
are the advantages and disadvantages to you in shooting digital video versus
The advantages of shooting digital are:
price, availability, and flexibility. The
disadvantages are: everyone is doing it, the picture can sometimes appear a
little be 'washed out,' and sometimes you aren't taken as serious because you
chose video over film. Since video is
everywhere and anyone can do it, if you shoot on film, that film will be taken
as a more serious attempt, unless you have name talent, in which case - all the
rules go out the window and your product is looked at as something special
since 'name talent' was interested in being in it.
7) How do you feel about all the smaller divisions of the major studios
like Miramax, New Line, Fine Line and Warner Independent shutting down?
Most people thought that a smaller
division of a major studio was truly independent. But as we all know, that couldn't be further
from the truth. These 'independent'
studios were actually parts of/owned by corporations and thus not 'indie' at
all. At one time they were but as the
years went on, they all became more scrutinized for what they were obtaining or
financing. New Line was built with small
films, they used to call it 'the house that Freddy built' due to the success
the studio had from the ‘Nightmare on
Elm Street' films. And they also
released the original ‘Texas Chainsaw
Massacre.' Miramax had 'Pulp Fiction’
and many other indie titles.
With these arms shutting down - others
will emerge, probably in the direct-to-DVD market, but they need to watch what
they distribute to be taken seriously.
8) There are many small DVD companies that release product that is
bottom-of-the-barrel on purpose just to turn a quick, cheap buck. What is it like to deal with those companies
and are they in trouble with the decline of DVD as HD and Blu-ray succeed it?
These companies are in trouble if they
continue to put out what they put out. I
have dealt with quite a few and they always tell me the same thing - "we
need more sex and violence" - tell me something I don't know. I guess I have held out hope that more of
these companies would take chances on movies that had something more to say. Sure, sex and violence sells, but it will only
hold up - if there's something there. There
are far too many movies that rip off and idea than try to create one. Look at
the number of ‘Blair Witch' and 'Saw' rip-offs. I'm not a huge fan of either, but I can
appreciate their originality and the way they created their atmospheres. Both have a different spin on familiar
storylines and both have great, unpredictable endings. And that is key to most films - did you create
an atmosphere? Did you create a world in
which the characters can live and breathe? Do I believe what I'm seeing?
Many low budget movies are presented to
these companies and all they look for is gore and boobs. Most of these are done by people who aren't
serious filmmakers and are looking to cash in quick, riding the wave of a
popular genre. Most of the people who
make these films disappear and are never taken seriously. I've had more than one associate tell me to
watch out what I make, especially as I move forward in my career - don't make
schlock garbage - at that point you will cease to be taken seriously. Imagine you're at a meeting trying to get
financing and you tell the person, 'I made arty film #1' but the person says to
you, 'I see that, but you also made 'Bubble Boobs from Outer Space.' What is your answer to that? Exactly. Even if that particular title turned a profit,
even a big one, you won't get money to make your serious film. You'll be asked to remake or sequelize your
success, thus creating a rut from which you cannot escape. Now, can you make money that way? Sure. But
will you be a serious filmmaker? No. I want to be taken seriously and make movies
that people want to see and respect. Not
make movies that are forgotten as soon as the credits begin.
But back to the question, the companies
that release said product will survive as they start to make Blu-ray, at least
some will. And there are some small
direct-to-DVD distributors that do look for quality. They can use a small 'gore 'n
girls' flick to help their sales or get their name out there, but not be
the basis for them.
9) Tell us about how and why you put Knock
‘Em Dead, Kid up for download instead of trying to release it on DVD
I am still actively seeking
distribution for the film but at the same time, I wanted to have people be able
to see it since a lot of the people I deal with always ask for links to your
prior work, something more than a trailer. So, I set up the title on Amazon and people
can either rent or purchase it online. I
didn't do it myself through a website, like some, as I wanted to just get it
onto Amazon which helps when you are trying to have your movie found, in search
engines and such. It's about positioning and getting it seen. I got it available and then started having DVD
review sites review it.
10) Have too many film schools ruined filmmaking because there is not
enough good product resulting?
Film school is a training ground. School and education can never hurt, so I
don't blame film school for the bad product. I blame the fact that people cut corners and
make whatever just to make some money. So,
they'll throw up nudity, gore, something controversial, and see if it sticks. Who cares if it's interesting? Who cares if it's dumbed down?
But, what you take from a film program
is solely up to each individual. What
people need to realize is that trying to make a career in movie making is very,
very difficult. Everyone believes that
he/she will be the next Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, or Scorsese. What they don't plan on are the limited
opportunities, the competition, and the lack of money on the table from no
work. You have to create your own way.
The best example I can give is this -
if you are a filmmaker, think of it as this way: you just walked outside after
a blizzard. The snow is 3 feet deep. You have only yourself and a shovel. No help. And the driveway that needs to be shoveled is
a long one. What do you do? You start shoveling. Some will keep going and going, keeping in
mind that by making little to no progress at times, let's say that while you're
shoveling, it starts snowing again, would you keep going? Can you finish the driveway? Or will you quit?
Personally you must forge on ahead,
understand the odds, and try and make a movie that is affordable to you. Too many people talk about making movies -
talk. That's it. Very little do. People have so many excuses, money, time,
resources. If anything could be gained
from my film. I had script which was 165
pgs, I had to scale it way down and eliminate 'sets' and scenes I knew I
couldn't afford or shoot. I had a
barebones idea, which had substance, and I went and shot it. What my film school (New York Film Academy)
did for me was to teach me that I could do it as long as I used what was
available to me and thought practically.
Film school is a great way to learn
about the hows and whys but in the end it comes down to drive and ambition. But it's like anything in life - if you don't
have the drive - you will not succeed. But
as we all know - you can still have the drive and not succeed, we all know
that. Sure, as time goes on, people do quit.
They do. It can be very
frustrating to try and try and not get anywhere. But it is a long, long process. Sure, there are overnight success stories, but
that's a one in a million shot or a lie (it wasn't overnight and the person was
trying for years, you just never heard of them).
11) What is wrong with the big budget films being made these days?
Where do I start? Well, the biggest problem is that most films
are made by committee. And since pretty
much every studio is owned by or controlled by a corporation, they have to be
more selective on what they make (they have to answer to shareholders). Everyone who wants to make movies knows this,
most who are only film fans may not. So
to simplify what I mean - instead of a writer writing a script and a director
directing it - you get a writer presenting a script to a bunch of producers,
all of whom give their 'suggestions' and the next thing you know the script,
even before it's filmed, has undergone such drastic changes that the original
idea is, for the most part - either gone or watered down. Then the film is directed, and unless it’s by
someone with some pull, the producers will give their ideas and input to the
director. And meanwhile - the ideas
continue to be whispered into the writer's ear and during filming, the script
changes even more!
So, you have a script that has changed
and changed, a film being 'directed' from the sidelines, and a product being
created to be understood by the masses. You
won't have a great defining film - you'll have what cinema has offered us since
2000. Recycled ideas.
Thank goodness for some of the indie
filmmakers who have shined through. Indie
cinema is at this moment, the only saving grace of cinema. But I will say this - how a film like ‘Frost/Nixon' got made by a major studio
is a mystery to me. I liked that film
but how many guys said to their dates on a Friday night, 'wanna go see ‘Frost/Nixon'? So, I am amazed that the film was made by a
studio. These miracles do happen in
filmmaking. It's rare but it happens.
12) Do you like the new 3-D movement and is it here to stay or just a quick
3-D has been, and always will be, a gimmick. It seems to work best with a 'gimmicky' film
like ‘My Bloody Valentine' but I
don't see it ever truly catching on for two reasons. #1 - not every theatre has the capacity to use
it. And #2 - you can't have proper 3-D
in a home theatre environment. It's not
as simple as put on the glasses and stare at the monitor. If it was, great. But it isn't. Hollywood
pulls out 3-D once in a while and it's usually great to look at but it's a
gimmick. It's part of what makes going
to the movies fun.
3-D’ is on my favs, seriously, but I was very young when I saw it, and
seeing a 3-D film, with a shark on the loose, was beyond cool, so I'm sure the
nostalgia factor creeps in, but hey. 3-D
won't be here to stay, and if you don't believe me, do you remember the 3-D
craze of the early-mid 80's? The bad
films were made in 3-D to grab more of an audience. Now, most of these films, I like, again, due
to nostalgia, but Jason in 3-D is still cool. We had ‘Friday
the 13th Part 3,' 'Amityville 3-D,'
‘Comin' At Ya,' and ‘The Man Who Wasn't There.' And what was one of the last 3-D films of the
craze? Remember ‘Treasure of the Four Crowns?' Need I say more?
13) What are some independent releases you liked of late?
To be honest, most of the independents I like usually get a very brief
theatrical release or go straight to DVD. In the last few years, I've liked: Auto Focus (2002), Gang Tapes (2002), Interview
with the Assassin (2002), Fear X
(2003), The Manson Family (2003), Open Water (2004), Hellbent (2004), Inland
Empire (2006), Badland (2007),
and The Walker (2007).
Focus' was great, 'Hellbent' is
the most original slasher film in years, 'Fear
X' was just plain weird, and 'Inland Empire?' What can you say that hasn't
been said about David Lynch, a great film, so bizarre and multi-layered?
14) Any big budget films that turned out better to you than expected?
'The Hangover’ was one of the most
original comedies I saw last year. Instead
of presenting the story to you straight on, you learn as the characters learn,
making it a 'detective-comedy.' It was
funny because they created scenarios not usually used.
Most of 2009 was spent plotting and
planning and putting things together, so I watched older films on T.V. as
opposed to spending time in the theatre. But in the last few years, I'd say 'Zodiac' was better than I expected
because they stuck to the book, not like they usually do. To me, most films lately have been below
average at best.
15) You said you liked films from the last great period of Hollywood film production, roughly 1965-1982. Can
you name a few and tell us why you like them?
There are the classics: Jaws, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now,
Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver,
Blow Out, American Gigolo, Halloween,
American Graffiti, Scarface, and Assault on Precinct 13.
Then there are the underrated classics like:
Prince of the City (1981) - Sidney
Lumet's detailed story about police corruption. How did Treat Williams not get
an Oscar nomination? This film is so
layered and filled to the brim with great performances. And we must make up or own mind on whether or
not our 'hero' was a hero or a rat. Stunning, as plain and simple as that.
The Long Riders (1980) - Walter
Hill's classic western, and to me - the greatest western ever made. The end raid on Northfield is insane! Remember they used real stuntmen and real
horses, no CGI, and when the James-Younger gang gets cornered, they aim their
horses right at a glass storefront and the horses/stuntmen go right through it.
It's amazing and has to be seen to be
believed. The story moves from the
opening frame and to me, James and Stacy Keach are Jesse and Frank James and
David Carradine is great as Cole Younger. This is a must see for anyone wanting to make
Blue Collar (1978) - Richard Pryor, Harvey
Keitel and Yaphet Kotto star in Paul Schrader's vastly underrated classic study
about 3 auto workers who try to rip off the union. But they stumble upon the fact that the union
is already ripping them off and when they try to blackmail the union - they
realize they are in way over their heads. The story is great and so gripping,
you've just got to see it.
Over The Edge (1979) - Restless teens go
wild in New Grenada. That's all I need
to say. Jonathan Kaplan's cult classic and a HUGE inspiration for my film, ‘Knock 'Em Dead, Kid.'
And some others that deserve a look: The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Star 80 (1983), Dressed to Kill (1980), Magnum
Force (1973), The Double McGuffin
(1979), The Black Hole (1979), Valentino (1977), Looker (1981), Outland
(1981), and F.I.S.T. (1978).
16) Name some filmmakers you like that are underrated.
Brian DePalma, Paul Schrader, Walter
Hill, Charles B. Pierce, and Greydon Clark. DePalma, Schrader, and Hill most
have heard of and each has made their masterpiece (DePalma - Body Double, Schrader - Hardcore, Hill - The Warriors). The other two
are low budget pioneers who have made some good films, often truly bizarre.
Pierce made 'The Legend of Boggy Creek,' 'The
Town that Dreaded Sundown,' and 'The
Evictors.' 'Boggy Creek’ was a classic of the whole 'fake Bigfoot' genre and
was quite effective. 'Sundown' is a bizarre, terrifying film
about a masked killer in 1946 going on a rampage. Try watching it at night, alone. And 'The
Evictors' - talk about atmosphere. Sure
the film gets a little muddled and the ending is a bit wacky, but the film has
a good premise and a great location. The
house itself is a character.
But let me talk about a filmmaker who
has really put a stamp on low budget filmmaking - Greydon Clark. He has made the vastly underrated 'Without Warning,' 'Joysticks,' and 'The Return.'
Warning’ seems like a precursor to 'Predator.'
It is creepy, moody, and very well done.
It's about an alien who has come to
earth to hunt its prey (sounds familiar, right?). The alien was really cool looking and the
story played it straight - no tongue in cheek, no nonsense - Jack Palance &
Martin Landau were both great. This is a
must see and at the moment it's not available on DVD, although I did get to see
it at a convention. As for 'The Return,' it stars Jan-Michael
Vincent and Cybil Shepherd and it's about 2 kids who see a UFO when they're
young and years later - they start to realize that what they saw has some
significance. It's wacky but it's got a
feel to it. And 'Joysticks' was a cool 80's sex-comedy that was made to cash in on
the video-game craze, it's oddly entertaining.
Now, don't get me wrong, both Pierce
and Clark have made disasters, most directors do. 'The Norseman’
– Lee Majors as a Viking? - oh, boy. But
most of their low budget films are well done, really cool and stylish.
17) Are you working on a new project or projects while promoting Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid?
I made a short film this past fall in Los Angeles entitled 'Cahuenga Pass.' It's in the vein of Bob Fosse's 'Star 80' and is about an adult film
star who has an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. I shot in HD (in both color and black &
white) and I like to refer to it as my 'HD experiment.' It is oddly structured, and it's almost done
wrapping in post. One of the film's
highlights is going to be it's awesome soundtrack from some up and coming
I like to keep busy by doing many
different things, I prefer to keep being creative, that's why I made something
new, and thus, I keep trying to find producers for my new projects. I will continue to push ‘Knock’ even as I push the new film and even as I start shooting my
next. I'm convinced that 'Knock' can find an audience.
We look forward to that project and
appreciate your detailed thoughts on filmmaking. I wish more new filmmakers cared as much as
For more on Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid, including on how to see it, try this link: