LLAMAS INVADE NO-BUDGET TERRITORY
You probably haven't heard of Maybe Gravy Productions. You probably haven't heard of young filmmakers Kevin L. West, Kirk Hunter or Earl Saathoff. But you likely won't forget their no-budget indie gem Barn Of The Blood Llama.
The place is Austin, Texas. The film is Barn Of The Blood Llama. It's a loving story of a mad doctor, his redneck sidekicks, a love of llamas and the dreaded male berserk syndrome. It's also one of the more daring horror-comedies in years. If you thought Troma was extreme, you ain't seen nothing yet!
I asked Kevin, Kirk and Earl the same batch of questions about the flick and here's what they had to say. Be warned though because it seems Kirk-o was a mite drunk when he wrote back (meaning I had a lot of editing to do).
Firstly, why llamas?
Kevin L. West: My usual response is, because they were available. We knew a filmmaker who maintained a llama ranch and decided the animals would make unusual suspects for a horror/comedy. Also, I really wanted the challenge of working with animals for my feature film debut. Now I know better. They're like cats, aloof and stand-offish, and about as interested in performing as roadkill. They may be cute, but they'll take the years off; another reason the next film involves remote-controlled pinatas.
Earl Saathoff: I really had to think about this one. My recollection is that llamas were cute and nobody would think they would be capable of harming a soul; something like Gremlins: cute but deadly when you feed them after midnight or get them wet. I know what the director will say. It's because they were available. Somebody knew somebody who knew someone who had a llama ranch and that was the motivation behind choosing llamas. Basically they were there and available and no one had used them before in the horror/sci-fi genre.
Kirk Hunter: Well, they are the last animal or creature that is still controllable to make into a horror scorer-bursting- abusing -spew meister- bleeding, choking creature-feature that has not been used by the major film makers YET! Also, Boone and I were thinking of a movie idea back in 1990 on the set of another movie. And we said, "what are the three ingredients to making a good no-budget quickly flicky horror film?" Those are "Barn in the title", "Blood in the title" and "Llamas in the title". Also the second A.D. on that flick said that we could shoot on his llama ranch, and he told us about the Male Berzerk Syndrome and that was it! We had to make the movie. Well I was coming up with some ideas and we finished working on that other flick. Boone went off to work for Dell, and I went on to work on some other stuff: low budget videos and films. We still had some "ranches" which was a video ranch born out of Fridays and Saturdays of getting together for beers and seeing flicks, which was born out of the show I did in the 80s called "Cheap Peeks''; a sneak preview flick show I produced. I also had written Rabid Geckos Bluff which is basically what "Barn" is built on. However, that one is still not made 'cause I'm still looking for 3 to 6 million to make it. I basically told Kevin one afternoon the retelling using Llamas instead of Rabid geckos (I still want to make Rabid Geckos Bluff). Then we had another "ranch" and drank some beers and partied and wrote the flick. Then we got the people together to start filming. I have over 10 hours of the making of this film on video tape and played it on the local access station during the promos of the showing in town etc..
Give Me Your Most Twisted Memory Of Filming
KLW: The whole multi-year experience has congealed in my mind as one long twisted episode. I remember it was godawful Texas hot when we began shooting and some of the last scenes required Lucinda Cruse (Toni) to walk around in short shorts in arctic-like temperatures. My most vivid memory was the day we shot the llama being dragged. Nothing worked correctly (again), the camera kept jamming, the actors had different ideas about their screen business, the tow truck driver suddenly found a better paying job and wanted their vehicle back, and the precious sun was setting. A crew person suggested something arcane and I just exploded. "How many fucking directors are making this film?" Etc. Luckily, someone caught the embarrasing showdown on tape and I will look like a stressed-out asshole forever. Other than this blow-up, I think the usual mood on the set was copacetic and hungover.
ES: Several things come to mind. Gibby's Twelve Days Of Christmas. Must be seen to be believed. Available on VHS. It was the very first day of filming that I was present at. I shot the scenes of Jug and Gibby discussing Doc Albert over giant bowling balls in the upper loft of the barn. Until that moment I was laboring under the delusion that this was going to be a "normal" horror movie. We had never done any rehearsal. None at all! So I had no idea what I was about to see. I was in shock when the camera stopped and it was at that very moment I said "we got a cult classic on our hands". The funeral scene was shot in a real graveyard that was full of fire ants. There was nowhere to stand that wasn't in or near a fireant bed. We'd shoot a scene and cut and everyone would stomp and scratch. Finally one of the actresses said "I know why there's so many ants here." She said, "They're eating the corpses." We all looked at each other. Coffins full of fireants. Now that's horror. Days for shooting my scenes invariable fell on a hangover and I could never remember my lines so we would shoot one line at a time and stop. Most of the film was shot this way come to think of it. Pa who's real name is Richard is in reality my roommate and has been for almost twenty years now. That's weird enough. On the night we shot his scenes where he cuts Bock's umbilical cord and after we got home he removed his boots whereupon he discovered one of his toes had gangrene! So we rush to the hospital and there I am trying to explain to everyone why my hair is Manic Panic purple. "Well, It's like this were making a movie called..." You get the picture. The camera just kept jamming and breaking down. We used three or four of them as I recall. Blowing up the barn miniature two weeks before the Oklahoma City bombing. Some of those black powder effects were also done in my spare bedroom. Nearly cutting Booneski's ear off while doing the make-up on the Dali Lama. I wanted to shoot all my scenes in the nude but the director wouldn't let me. Doc Albert actually spoozing while shooting his scene with Blessie-Sue. If you look his pants as he is zipping them up they're really wet. We debated cutting this out because it was too graphic.
KH: ahhhhhrrrrgggghhhhh, there were too many from having to produce 32 hours of live "Waco'" fire-tank going in the compound footage live anti-government survivalist- shows to get the Llama head effects done. Then to get the miniature "barn" built, to the 6 hours of rehire sound and background sounds; and being chased down by North by Northwest Biplanes' in east Texas cotton fields. To the photo shoot with some titless bimbos we chased down from a mama-son Tit bar, 'cause they had the mazeratti and the girls would do that for the water body double afternoon. But no go from the daddy control bucks at the tit bar, too expensive, we'll pass. Then on to the just in time luck of the draw girls who we had just called and read the script and they wanted in 'cause they thought it was hillarious. To the truck exchange cause the actor was not in and did not want to do the scene, the others wanted to but couldn't make up their minds to get to the set. And then JUGGY SCREAMS bloody murder, "Their is only one fucking Director HERE!!".
Who's The One Amongst You Into Beastiality?
KLW: We've all gone through extensive animal rehab and are on doggie prozac, so inclinations toward pleasuring our animal friends have waned considerably.
ES: Definitely the Doc is but if you're paying attention during the llama funeral you'll hear Tiffiny come out too.
KH: mmmm not me, but you know that Dr. Albert was certainly into the reenacting of the hummer jets.. should of seen the outtakes trying to make it look real enough. It was like fisty cuffs, with the little llama that couldn't sit still.
What About Distribution? Any Luck?
KLW: We're currently self-distributing BOTBL. The majors who viewed BOTBL had follow-up responses like: "wild...a hoot...some pretty brave filmmaking." I.e.- what else ya got? Some start-up companies are now looking at BOTBL...and I'm burning those Good Luck Mojo candles everynight.
ES: At the moment we are self distributing one video at a time. I'm using the Internet to get our message out through newsgroups. I've recently floated the promotional idea with the director of giving away a copy of the video to anyone who buys a t-shirt. All we need now is the artwork for the shirt but at the moment there's no one interested in producing any new artwork for BOTBL. As it is now those once closest to the film seem content to let BOTBL die quietly in its stall.
KH: No luck, I don't know what Kevin's doing. I haven't talked to him in a long time BUT I want my 33 percent! I guess the web is the only place to go since Troma didn't want it and 'fraidy cats in the no-budget world... What do these people think they are doing to LLAMAS? Making this BRAVE little film that could, sheeeeeesh give me break, you don't know what your missing BAAAAAABY! 150 people showed for the showing at the gattis pizza and beer, and they had to call the fire marshall...
How About Some Tips For People Who Want To Make Their Own Low-Budget Epic
KLW: Shoot on video. Unless you were crazy enough to buy stock in Ebay or Dell two years ago, you'll need mucho outside funding. Advances in DV are astounding. Even veteran no-budget filmmakers like Mark Pirro are shooting on DV nowadays and then transferring their edited projects to 16mm or 35mm film. Hire a reliable soundman and make sure you're getting what you wanted during the production phase. Then you can devote major sleep losses to something other than post-production sound recreation. Feed your crew and actors well. They'll evaporate like water on you if their deferred and no salary positions include starvation diets. And nothing cures those perpetual hang-overs like all you can eat buffets.
ES: I've learned several important rules that can improve the outcome of any film or video project. First of all and most importantly I'd say that the sound is half the picture. Getting good sound is literally going to make your life as the next John Waters or Roger Corman a lot easier when you reach the post production stage. Another suggestion would be to get your actors from a pool of local acting classes with their varied ages and talent levels. The students they contain are highly motivated and work for free. Don't just cast your friends unless your after the college look. You'll need them for grips and catering. The sound we collected during filming was recorded on the tiny little magnetic sound stripe on the Super-8 stock used. Yes, we shot on Super-8 film. Not a good idea in the age of digital video but at the time that was not an option. Our rational was that it needed to look like a film and not a video to be taken seriously by potential distributors and the TV/Cable market. I don't really see a problem with first time filmmakers using whatever medium they feel comfortable with and can reasonably afford. Save your money the first couple of times around and shoot on video until you can raise some real money. If your film/video turns out to be a hit you can always make a film print later through new digital technologies that enhance the picture and remove the interlacing present in video. Check out the DV to 35 mm website at http://www.dvfilm.com for more detailed information on turning your digital video into film. To quote the late Joseph Chambell, "Follow your bliss."
KH: We did this during the "Robert rod" days, so- and Slacker was going big, and there was no such thing as shooting DV. I am currently shooting my next flick FORCED EXIT 2000 on DV, so it will lot cheaper than the no-budget 16mm or 8mm (So who gives a damn what it is shot on as long as it looks cool and there are weird characters?). More fests take DV and video features now so do it on no-budget DV and borrow a non linear editor.. go for it. TIME'S short!!
What Kind Of Shooting Schedule And Budget Were You Working With?
KLW: BOTBL's shooting schedule broke down after the first two weeks and I returned to my day job. I'd say we shot 70% of the script those first two weeks and the remaining 30% stretched out for another 2+ years, shooting on weekends and holidays. Two times, we had to find replacements when the original actresses left Austin to pursue non-film lives elsewhere. The budget was a credit card and medical guinea pig at Pharmaco situation. The actual dollar amount (somehwere in the mid to high 4 figure range) is still being disputed.
ES: In the beginning we hoped to finish up production some time in '94 after doing the principal photography during the summer of '93. As it turned out BOTBL was considered finished more or less in '97. What took so damn long? Well, the sound for one and the special effects for another. Funding came from racking-up debt on credit cards and even some Pharmaco (medical research) ala the Robert Rodriguez school of inde film financing. Fellow filmmaker Marcus Van Bavel of Red Boy 13 fame made generous contributions along the way in the form of slow-motion photography and old fashioned economic muscle. Kirk, who plays Gibby, referring to his credit cards would say, "Just throw that baby down and let 'er spin". I'll bet he's still trying to pay off the debt. As for me: I paid in blood, sweat, and fears.
KH: Well we started the movie in July and shot about 80 percent of the movie that summer 93, then we went into weekends. I would suggest that you shoot the whole movie in 2 weeks and get your tits shots first and don't wait for EFFECTS, no way, do NOT wait for the effects. If you have effects in your movie do them first and figure out how you are going to do them. Actors are easy; EFFECTS are hard to come by. Basically put most of the film on my credit card. And I think that Kevin did too. Got some money and time and energy from Kelly? We started out with 4k in credit card debt, but this doesn't count all the freebies that we got, no one got paid and we did not have craft services.. borrowed everything and shot over the 4 years with the use of 3 llama ranches, 8 super-8 cameras and lot of panache.
You have one of the more visually distinct low-budget films around, how did you decide on the style of filming and the fact it's so varied in it's execution?
KLW: Sheer ineptness some might claim. In fact, after too many years of watching sci-fi B-movies, horror films and other drive-in fare; it was inevitable these schlock aesthetics would show themselves like mental patients acting out their neuroses. Some of the variances sited are doubtless due to the technical problems we encountered (like going through 5 different S-8 cameras). Other factors include the infernal shooting schedule; where winter, summer, fall and spring may be depicted in the same scene. Super-8 filmstock seems by its very nature to yield unpredictable results. I knew we could never achieve a Terry Gilliam or X-Files slickness, so I pushed our Art Director (Earl Saathoff) towards a cartoony kind of corn-pone roughness. His miniatures were slick though, and provided our "money shots".
ES: I think this happened serendipitously. It's just a synthesis of all the movies that have in some way influenced us over the years. Two very influential films that come to mind are Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and The Brain That Wouldn't Die. I just kept thinking about Alfred Hitchcock and tried to throw in all the tilted camera angles I could. The director is also the editor so he had total control over the final look of the film. I could make suggestions but it was the director that had access to the Media 100 machine at work and that was off limits to all us mere mortals. I still lobby for a b&w version as have several others but as the time approaches to start work on Rowdy Roundup, our next vehicle, it seems less and less likely any more post production work will take place. Believe me there are a lot of things I'd still like to fix, but in general I'm happy with the look of the movie.
KH: Three different DP's and five directors. Eight super-8 cameras along with 2, 16mm cameras loaded with retreads from another flick. Rolling everywhere but the right direction. Actors saying three different levels of foreign distribs languages and the unnerving levels of sun and fire ants biting you and sweat hogging around. Then half the cast going to lala land and New Orleans. Dallas marrying smarmy lawyers. So we had to replace actors with llamas and barns with ranches and crew who knew nothing but we were there 45 minutes past the time. Part champagne and always beer.. Trying to keep up with the Corman attitude of blood hits n'tits. To no avail it just turned into a skeeter driven sundrenched- pyscho- bitch fest.
Who Kidnapped Clive Barker For His Cameo?
KLW: Raven, who played the Burger Dominatrix, worked with Clive on Nightbreed. When we heard he was doing a comic book signing in Austin, we enlisted Raven to get Clive's attention and then before he could say no, trained our camera on him and presented him with huge cue cards. He graciously went along with the "stunt." Fortunately, his lawyers have not asked us to cease and desist (fearing, I guess, that the negative publicity might work in our favor.)
ES: The simple story is he came to town on a comic book promotion tour and the studio director is Kirk, where we shot the interview is also one of the film producers for BOTBL as well as the legendary Gibby. See first answer to question two.
KH: Gibby did. He came to town to plug his comics and new book and I was doing a live show, so I said to my co producers of Cutting Edge Comix that they would not get the studio unless I had film of Clive to put him in my movie. So he did it and Kevin came up with something for him to say and he read them off the cues.. it was very cool, although his behind the scenes agents or manager did not like the look of the camera or other stuff going on I think.