I last hopped on the phone with writer/director/producer and now actor Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS, DRIFTWOOD) in January to discuss I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR, his segment of comedy-horror anthology film CHILLERAMA, the brainchild of Tim, Adam Rifkin, Adam Green and Joe Lynch.
Fast-forward eight months and Tim is as busy as ever with the standalone DVD of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR now available, the development of a multitude of intriguing projects, and the releases of both BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP and CUT/PRINT, two very different horror films that he produced as part of his new Tim Sullivan Presents venture, not to mention acted in in the case of the former.
Tim is always great value when it comes to interviews and this one is no exception. We had a rather epic 70-minute conversation delving deep into his current and future projects and his new self-distribution philosophy that he feels is the way forward in the film industry. The full piece will be spread out over the next few days, but let me just say that this is a must-read interview for those of you who are independent film-makers or indeed aspiring movie-makers. Tim delivers a very frank and honest account of what the current landscape of the movie business is like, even for an established film-maker, and his thoughts on what the future holds.
TIM SULLIVAN: are both about serial killers, but they could not be [more] opposite from each other [laughs].
BRITGEEK: [laughs] Is that a good thing?
TS: I think so, because BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP is very much in line with the stuff that I've done, and I was very moved when Vito Trabucco and Reggie Bannister asked me to participate because I felt like … we must have grown up watching the same movies because that broad comedic splatstick was on every page of Vito's script, and just the fact that the killer was a transvestite killer nun... I must admit I never saw that before, and then when we added the devil mask I was just like, this is really actually creepy and could be fun.
I was intrigued by being asked to participate in CUT/PRINT because my tastes tend not to go into the very extreme, sadistic... what people often refer to as torture porn. I'm not into long scenes of torture and that kind of stuff, and yet when I watched CUT/PRINT – the initial cut that they had – I was fascinated by the killer and by the style of the film, and it was very dark and there's definitely no splatstick in this one [laughs], this is dead-on reality. And the fact that the actor who had played the serial killer, whose name is The Maestro, the fact that he had tragically and horribly committed suicide while they were filming, and that's why the film was on the shelf, it just haunted me, and in a weird way I felt that this man's work needed to be seen.
This was his final performance and it was something else. I felt, let me try my hand in something that is polar opposite from [2001 MANIACS] and [I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR] and even Sister Mary Chopper, so it's very interesting to me that these two films are coming out at the very same time, 'cause they really are ying and yang.
BG: So CUT/PRINT is much more of a serious horror film.
TS: It's dead serious and, again, it's a film that utilises the technique of the sort of documentary style ... these two film-makers are doing a documentary on serial killers and they put an ad out asking people to send in their videos, and they don't expect anything. It's a whole meditation on what people will do to achieve fame and success, and how people become numb and desensitised to violence when they can go on YouTube and see real Taliban beheadings or see the corpse of Gadaffi lying on the ground. You become so numb to that and that does eventually have consequences; that stuff will come and bite you on the ass.
What I really liked about the film was that you have these two cocky film guys who remind me so much of the slick Hollywood types [who] annoy the shit out of me [laughs], so it was kind of fun to see this whole journey turn on them where they mess with the wrong person and they really do catch a very serious and real serial killer, and he is sending them basically snuff films.
What I loved about it was, at first they go to the cops, the cops don't believe them so they kind of become accessories because this guy keeps sending them snuff films and they are planning on putting them in their documentary and getting this great fame, and it doesn't work out too good for them [laughs].
BG: I can imagine [laughs]. No, it sounds really interesting and it sounds like a very timely film. You see all the time the lengths that people will go to for fame these days, and with all these reality TV shows and everything. I think it's always interesting to see how reality influences film-makers.
TS: It was interesting because when I first was brought on board the film, again, what had happened was Nathaniel Nose, a very good young director in Detroit and now he's in LA, he had done this film and then the actor tragically... that was very bizarre, life imitating art imitating life imitating art, that going on and on. They had a very good first cut, but there was so much missing.
It was almost like that River Phoenix film that has just been put back together that he was filming when he died. It was sitting on his shelf for two years. Jordan Levine, who was in FIELD OF SCREAMS, is also a producer and he knew Nathaniel Nose and he brought the film to me and I watched it, and I thought, 'There's definitely missing holes here, but if we can find a way to fill those holes I think we'd have something really cool.' What struck me most about the film was the character of The Maestro, so we didn't have Randy Godwin, who was the guy who played The Maestro, but since the whole film was shot like a documentary these people are filming, we thought The Maestro really wants to be a film-maker.
He doesn't see himself a killer, he sees himself as a film-maker and these deaths are his works of art, so how would somebody become a person like that? I brought on Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan who'd been with me on CHILLERAMA and basically we decided to take the film apart and then put it back together in a different order and add some new puzzle pieces, and those puzzle pieces were the back story of The Maestro.
We thought if this was a kid who had these overbearing parents, the idea that maybe [they] had children later in life, in their 40s, and they just filmed everything he did with a Super 8 camera and the kid couldn't even take a bath, couldn't eat, sleep without being constantly on camera by these twisted stage parents gone to the extreme, and after a while when the camera's always on you and his hatred towards them, you could see somebody turning the camera on society and lashing out at society and filming his vengeance. So we filmed a whole bunch of these scenes and got this amazing kid to play The Maestro in the flashbacks, and then it just worked, it really works.
We also felt that there wasn't an ending, so using some magic of CGI and being able to do some body doubles with The Maestro, we were able to film an ending that hopefully will be jaw-dropping, oh my god. It needed a real exclamation point at the end. We brought on Vinnie Guastini, who actually had done the make-up effects for DRIFTWOOD and he works now with Darren Bousman and all that, and he just did some amazing work. It's a disturbing film. It's a sucker punch, whereas [with] BLOODY BLOOODY BIBLE CAMP, you're just like holy crap, did I just watch that? I need another beer. I need another joint [laughs].
BG: And with all the Catholic scandals going on, the character of Sister Mary Chopper actually doesn't seem that far removed from reality [laughs].
TS: Not really, I mean Vito Trabucco, who is the writer/director of BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP, he and I are both recovering Catholics [laughs], and the irony of it is, we were talking about how when we were kids the things that scared us weren't Dracula and Frankenstein, it was anything that had to do with THE EXORCIST. You go to church and they're telling you how you're all going to hell.
One of the scariest things for me was when I was a kid and I was in Catholic school and I had to go through the church when it was empty and it was dark, and you would just see the figure of Christ impaled on the cross, and I know what it represents; it's sacrifice for another, and it's a beautiful metaphor, but the actual statue of a naked man impaled on a cross with a crown of thorns is a very frightening image, and I had more nightmares growing up about that than I ever did about any hunchback of Notre Dame or phantom of an opera. And it's so interesting to me that whenever something bad happens, like Colombine or the horrible killing at the [THE DARK KNIGHT RISES] screening, people are always blaming a video game or a rock 'n' roll song or a horror movie – and there might be truth in that – but nobody ever looks at the fact of what religion, and specifically Catholicism [laughs], can do to some kid.
When you're constantly told that if you don't do this you're going to hell, or if you love this person you're going to hell, and if you give into your hormones before you're married you're going to hell, and if you have a baby before you're married you're going to hell, and there's just so many things that are just natural explorations for teenagers, and to be told that [they're] all evil and bad and you're going to hell, and then you just think of yourself in hell on a cross, I mean trust me... that leads to movies like BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP [laughs].
BG: [laughs] That's a very good point, I mean so many movies are blamed for all these tragic events, but then you look at these wars that are going on, they're all pretty much down to religion and religious extremism and indoctrination; they're all down to these things people should or shouldn't do according to scriptures and books and things like that.
TS: Absolutely. I also have to say for the record, don't misunderstand me, people. I'm a spiritual person and I believe in my version of God or a higher power. I'm talking about organised religion, I'm not talking about spirituality, I'm talking about organised religion. There's a big difference.
BG: So CUT/PRINT and BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP are the first two features in your Tim Sullivan Presents producing venture, but you also made the Stephen King short with Paul Ward, ONE FOR THE ROAD. Did you consciously make a short as a means to get your feet wet with the new venture?
It happened first but it was always on the agenda. One of the things that's very important to me is loyalty and I've been very blessed that some very talented people have lent their time and talent to my films, and Paul Ward, who is a friend of mine from Dublin, actually flew out to be an Associate Producer on WEREBEARS and to actually act in it, and he's a damn good director in his own right, so I wanted to show him my gratitude and produce something for him, just like I wanted to help out Vito and I wanted to help out Nathaniel Nose.
So many people have helped me out in my career – Gene Simmons, John Landis, Ray Manzarek of The Doors – and I just feel that it's so important if you're in the position to help somebody make a movie and get their vision up there, do it. It just so happened that Paul got the rights to the Stephen King short and we were just ready to go. Reggie was there and it just happened first. In retrospect, it really was a good way to get the team together for the first time and sort of test out the formula, and it worked really well.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of my interview with Tim where we discuss self-distribution and the drastic changes happening to film distribution right now.
BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP is available now on DVD and video on-demand (check out the official website for VOD listings).
BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP will have its world premiere at LA Scream Fest on October 26.
CUT/PRINT will be available worldwide on DVD and VOD from November 2, with the Detroit premiere taking place on October 26. Visit the official Facebook page for more information.
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