Last week, I received an incredible response from film-makers, aspiring film-makers and movie lovers around the world to the second part of my interview with writer/director/producer Tim Sullivan, where we discussed at length the shifting landscape of Hollywood and the pursuit of self-distribution in a time when the future of the industry is far from certain.
This week, in the third and final part of my 70-minute chat with Tim, we discuss his future plans and projects, and delve a little deeper into how independent film-makers not only now have the power to make their own movies the way they want to (and for a low price), but get their work out there in a professional manner without paying the earth, and being able to make a living in the industry.
TIM SULLIVAN: I feel good. I had a blast [with] BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP. It was such an experience playing Sister Mary Chopper. When I was fourteen, I saw PHANTASM for the first time at a grindhouse on 42nd Street in New York. I fell in love with [Reggie Bannister], I thought he was so badass. Never in a million years did I think I would be acting in a movie with him, let alone wearing a nun's habit and falsies and a devil mask [laughs].
BRITGEEK: Exactly [laughs]. How did you actually get involved in that as the transvestite killer nun?
TS: Reggie called me up. He had seen me on SCREAM QUEENS and he was like, “You know, actually you're kind of a good actor,” and I was like, “Well, I was kinda playing myself.” He's like, “Yeah, but how would you like to play a killer transvestite nun named Sister Mary Chopper in a comedy called BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP that my friend Vito Trabucco's directing?” and I was like, “You know, that sounds like a lot of fun.” I always wanted to be a masked monster. The script was so damn funny, it felt like something right out of 1979; PORKY'S meets SLEEPAWAY CAMP … I know we have to work sometimes to do things we don't like to pay the rent, but sometimes you do something not because there's a big paycheck, or even a paycheck, but it's just fun, and BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP was one of those times and we had a blast. And while I was there, Vito allowed me to sort of take over the Mary Chopper character and write the back story for her/him [laughs], and I took off on second unit and directed all of the Mary Chopper scenes and we came up with a back story and had a big unmasking at the end.
It gave me an appreciation of guys like Kane Hodder and Tyler Mane and Dick Warlock, and all these people who have played these characters. They're acting, and so much when you're covered in a mask and heavy costume truly is about your body movement and your body language and your eyes, and I really grew a deep appreciation for these performers and had a blast doing it, I really did.
I've seen the film with audiences and it's definitely a beer and pizza movie, and had it come out in 1978 or '79 or '80, it more than likely would have gotten a theatrical and it probably would have done a decent box office, but because ironically the movie cost so little, it's already in profit. It's so amazing. Between being downloaded on iTunes and downloaded on Amazon.com – we actually did a download thing first and now we're self-distributing, but it's [now available] on DVD [and] already in profit, so I'm very proud of everyone involved in that film because, from a business standpoint, it did what it was supposed to do: it made money.
BG: Yeah. Excellent. I believe you shot that one before I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR. Is that correct?
TS: Yeah, actually you're right, yes. God, yeah, it took that long for BLOODY to come out because, and that's a good point, Vito shopped it around to distributors and everybody was like, “Well, we'll give ya nothing for it. We love it, we'll give ya nothing for it,” and Vito's like, “Fuck that, I'll put it out myself.” But yeah, it's so funny because we shot BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP and that's how I actually met some of the actors who were in WEARBEARS, like Chris Raff … and Chris Staviski who played the Sean Paul Lockhart Werebear, he was in BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP. They're a kindred spirit, those two films.
BG: It's good to see film-makers kind of standing up to distributors because, like you said, all these companies are offering absolutely nothing for these movies just thinking that people are going to be so excited by the fact that they've been offered a deal and just take it. If enough people stand up to that then I think distributors are going to have to change their tune anyway.
TS: And it's bullshit, they make money. This is what happens, this is the bottom line: say they put out five titles a month. One does shitty, three do okay, two do great. Well, I know what the distributors do. They've been doing it forever, the studios. They advertise the cost. I know that money that I should be getting for my movie went to cover the losses of another movie that the studio is putting out that month.
And another thing: say they have a publicist who publicises every release, they will put that fee for that publicist against the film that made the most money, because they have to make a profit. It's a sad landscape for the distributors as well, but they find ways of making money through clever book-keeping. We, the film-makers, find ways of making money by actually going out there in the trenches, like travelling salesmen in a way if you think of it, and going from horror convention to horror convention, greeting and meeting the fans and selling copies of our films ourselves. It's the same thing that happened in the music industry.
There's no more labels because the artists got so fed up with getting butt-fucked that they are just going, “Screw you, I'm going to give my music away to my fans because I'm not making a profit anyway.” Trent Reznor did this. He said, “You know what, I'm not making money from the label anyway so I'm just going to give the music to the fans and then they will come see me in concert because hopefully they appreciate the gift of my music,” and that's exactly what happened with Nine Inch Nails.
We used to not be able to manufacture menus and DVDs and master, but now, Christ, people can do that in their home. You can create professional packaging, and just to give you an idea, there's a place I know in LA that will make a DVD for you that has a double-sided insert, a wraparound and artwork on the DVD itself and it comes in a plastic case, shrink-wrapped, [and it'll] cost you a buck 75 per copy if you order 100. So think about it, you order 100 and it costs $175, you sell them for $40, you sell seven and you've covered the cost and the other 93 are pure profit. So if more film-makers started doing that and we started having independent film-maker sites and we started selling our stuff directly to Red Box and directly to Amazon, distributors are going to have to either die or figure something out, but I think they're all going to go away, I think you're only going to have the big ones like Warner Bros. and stuff like that, but I think the smaller ones are going one by one.
BG: Going back to your role as Sister Mary Chopper, do you think that role gave you more confidence and perspective when you decided to take the role of Coach in WEREBEARS?
TS: [laughs] I don't know about that. The role of Coach was not by choice, it was a last minute thing because we had John Holma, who was my co-star in SCREAM QUEENS, to play it, and two days before he got a big movie gig and I told him, of course, go for the big gig. When we were doing the auditions, I would read that part, I would do the whole voice, so it was a matter of not having any time to find somebody else. So I just figured if I'm going to go for it I would make myself as ridiculous looking as possible and I just threw myself in there and I was like, “Oh my god, could I look any dorkier?”
BG: Do you think taking roles like that has perhaps changed your directing style now that you've been in the shoes of an actor?
TS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I understand, I get it. I know it's so tough on actors when they're waiting and waiting and waiting for the lights to be ready. I was there and I was in that heavy costume and that mask and I was sweating.
But the thing was, I understood why it was taking so long, so I as an actor actually had more of an understanding of the directors. I actually think that actors [laughs] should try making films so they can understand why sometimes it takes so long in between takes to get things right. What definitely came most out of my experience of playing Sister Mary Chopper [was that] I realised – and Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Ace and Peter of KISS have told me this, and Robert Englund has told me this, and Kane has told me this – but where the real freedom comes is playing a masked character – whether it's wearing a mask or make-up or grease paint – that does something to you because it truly unleashes things that you didn't know were inside you because you're hidden from the world.
I watch the movie and I get disturbed because I'm like, “Where did that come from?” And it was interesting because my dialogue was muffled by the mask, so after every take I had to take the mask off and redo the dialogue. I could not face crew. I had to turn my back and do the voice. I had to close my eyes and pretend I was still wearing the mask. I don't even think I could do that voice now if you asked me to. I'd have to wear the mask [laughs].
BG: So you don't think you could have actually done that role without the mask?
TS: Not as effectively, no. Maybe now I can, but the mask gave me a freedom to just be as creepy and dark as possible. … A barrier. Because [with] Sister Mary Chopper, we came up with this very sing-songy, childish creepy voice like something out of SUSPIRIA; high-pitched and going back and forth between being happy and being freaky and just this bi-polar mess. Being able to do that without having people being able to see me helped [laughs].
BG: Are you ever going to play a character who isn't a bit weird?
TS: Actually I did, it's so funny. Who knew? … Chris Staviski, who was in BLOODY and WEREBEARS, he's also a director and he directed this film called PAIN IS BEAUTIFUL, which I didn't produce, but he cast me as the lead detective, and that's coming out in the first quarter of 2013 and that's another one of those films that's going to be distributed independently, and it's a serious film. I play a detective and it's totally serious. I was really humbled that he asked me to play it. I've been asked to be in a couple others. Paul Ward's doing a new film called IN THE ARMS OF THE DEVIL that's very Dennis Wheatley-esque. He's going to be shooting it in Dublin. It's very THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. He's asked me to play the leader of the satanic cult. It's a very serious role. I'm enjoying this. I'm really liking this.
BG: So acting is fitting into your film-making repertoire then. Do you think it's becoming something that you consider yourself as now or may do in the future?
TS: Well, I would not put myself in the same category as De Niro or Hoffman, but I started out as an actor. I was in all the school plays, I was in every play from kindergarten to senior year and I was always an entertainer. I was a magician when I was a teenager called The Great Sullivini [laughs].
I always acted in plays, but I didn't think I had what it took, so I decided to be behind the camera. When I was making my student films though, I always put myself in them, but when I graduated from film school I just decided to focus on directing. So, I have a background it's just that I haven't tapped into that for 20 years, and now that I am I'm really enjoying it. Do I consider myself an actor? No.
BG: Not quite a Thespian yet then?
TS: No. I'm having fun and people seem to think I do a good job. I'm good at playing caricatures. We'll see. I enjoy it and I'm up for it and I would definitely work for it if somebody offered me the opportunities.
BG: Yeah. That's good to hear. Anything else you'd like to add about your future projects, like THE POET IN EXILE?
TS: Yeah, it's interesting because I've built this horror resume which I'm so grateful to have been able to do, and at the same time that I'm doing the self-distribution/indie producing, I'm also working on a bigger film than I've worked on before and a non-horror film: THE POET IN EXILE, which I'm writing and directing, and it's based on a book by Ray Manzarek of The Doors, as you know, that imagines what if Jim Morrison didn't die.
This is going to be a bigger movie along the budget of, say, CRAZY HEART and THE WRESTLER, and we're talking to some amazing actors about participating like Richard Gere and Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell, so I'll be doing that. Again, the yin and the yang. I love it. You've got the yin of the sort of prestige project, THE POET IN EXILE, and then you've got the yang of the BLOODY BIBLE CAMPS and the CUT/PRINTS and all that stuff.
I'm grateful I do this because I really, really love being a storyteller and I love making movies, and as long as I have access to a camera I'm going to, whether I just make them for myself or my mum and sister, or other people to check out [laughs].
BG: It's really cool to see you dabbling in so many different projects, from low-budget horror to these bigger projects. It's really interesting to see.
TS: Ray Manzarek said to me life is not a genre. Every day some parts of it are comedy, there's other m oments that are horror, every now and then it's a thriller, sometimes hopefully it's a porno [laughs], but life is a hybrid. Life is a hybrid of genres. I'd like to think of myself as a film-maker, not just a horror film-maker, and it's not that I'm turning my back on horror, don't ever get me wrong, I'm not back in the day, “It's not really a horror film!” No, I love making horror movies, but if you said, “What do you do?” I'd say I'm a film-maker. I don't say I'm a horror film-maker or a comedy film-maker. I'm a film-maker.
Huge thanks to Tim for his time. This has truly been the most fascinating interview I have ever had the pleasure of conducting and I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did being a part of it.
BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP is available now on DVD and video-on-demand. Check out the official website for order information, VOD listings and more. The film 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 further information.
Click here to support indie film-making and order your personalised copy of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR: Hairy & Uncut Ultimate Edition on DVD.