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by Chris Hartley, staff writer of The Video Graveyard.

St. Louis' Wicked Pixel certainly stands out amongst the hundreds of filmmakers and collectives littering the independent horror landscape. The brainchild of writer-director Eric Stanze, Wicked Pixel isn't afraid to take chances and with a dedicated nucleus of actors and talent, they've captured the attention of fans with such off-beat fare as Ice from the Sun as well as the bizzaro Severed Head Network collection of short, usually experimental, films. Since joining the company in 1999, Jason Christ has worked his way up the ranks taking a prominent position as the vice president and mouthpiece of the company. I've had the pleasure to get to know him on a professional and personal level and have found him to be one of the more friendly and honest people you're likely to find working in the (usually thankless) indie scene. He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions about Wicked Pixel, his feature-length directing debut, and their old school approach to getting their latest film out to the public.


How did you get involved with WP and what are your current duties?

I grew up in the small Midwestern town of Hillsboro, which is about 30 miles south of St. Louis, Missouri. Living in all that wide open space, I guess I developed an overactive imagination to keep myself from going nuts. I think that imagination was brought into sharper focus when my parents opened a video rental shop when I was in the fourth grade. Yeah, I know that sounds like your typical 90's indie filmmaker origin story, but with that massive exposure to so many movies at such a young age, I guess it was only natural that I decided to try and make movies myself. What really inspired me to try my hand at filmmaking was when I heard of another guy in my neck of the woods that was making movies of his own... a man by the name of Eric Stanze. As it turned out, he was screening one of his early student films (THE SCARE GAME) at a community college just outside of Hillsboro. Unfortunately, the screening was age-restricted and I couldn't get in (which pissed me the fuck off). I moved on with my life and later attended the same college where I had previously been turned away from THE SCARE GAME screening. I was taking television production courses at the time and there I met Rebecca Kennebeck, who happened to be one of the stars of the original SAVAGE HARVEST. We became friends and she helped me with my first feeble attempt at making a movie (DARK AURA, a clip of which can be seen in SAVAGE HARVEST 2). When it came time to screen SAVAGE HARVEST for the cast and crew, Rebecca invited me to the premiere. It was there that I officially met Eric Stanze. After the screening, I approached him about my interest in working with him on an upcoming project (Eric has no recollection of this historic meeting). Perhaps a year or so later, I got notified about auditions for ICE FROM THE SUN. I went in, did a kick-ass audition (well, maybe not that good), got a part, and the rest is history.

I'm currently a Vice-President at Wicked Pixel Cinema, along with Jeremy Wallace. My focus tends to be creative development of projects that the company puts into production, as well as general marketing. Regardless of how I function on a particular movie, whether it's as a producer, director, actor or writer, I've become interested in recent years with helping on the marketing side of things, since it's an obviously vital component to the future success of Wicked Pixel Cinema.

Tell our readers a little about Wicked Pixel and why they should pay attention to a group of dedicated filmmakers from St. Louis.

It's a hard thing to separate yourself from the pack, and let's face it, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to picking a flick to watch. Output from Hollywood notwithstanding, the advent of digital video has absolutely saturated the film market with filmmakers who use the increasingly inexpensive technology to make their films with greater ease. The best way to draw attention to yourself in this overcrowded market is to offer viewers something different from the norm and I think that's something Wicked Pixel Cinema does very well. We don't box ourselves into a creative corner by recycling familiar formulas or by merely regurgitating the same type of film over and over again. Whether it's the fun, demon-possession splatter of the SAVAGE HARVEST films, the intense brutality of SCRAPBOOK or the lyrical atmosphere of DEADWOOD PARK, each of our films are unique and offers viewers a different viewing experience. Most of our films are within the horror genre, but since horror offers amazing latitude of creativity, we haven't had any problems expanding in new and different directions with each project that we do.

We also don't let budget dictate the quality of our films. All films, regardless of budget, go through the same process. Even though we're not wallowing in multi-million-dollar budgets, we take our craft very seriously and approach each project that we do with the same precision and craftsmanship that we would if we did have a significant budget.

I think those are pretty solid reasons for people interested in independent cinema to check out our body of work. As we continue to grow, we'll continue to shift gears artistically, which will hopefully enable us to not only entertain our current fans but also attract new audiences as well.


One of Savage Harvest 2's possessed

When making SAVAGE HARVEST 2, what did you try to do differently from the 1995 original and how did you go about deciding how to follow up what is probably WP's best known feature.

I know that SAVAGE HARVEST has had a successful run on the video market for the past decade. I think it's a popular title and I know the movie has its fans (I was one of them), but I don't think the world was beating down Eric's door demanding a sequel. I came to the project simply wanting to tell a story. I'm kind of a sucker for demon-possession movies like THE EXORCIST, THE EVIL DEAD and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS and I thought it would be fun to do one of my own. I also thought it would be an interesting learning experience to take a pre-existing story and expand the material in a different way. I whipped up a script, Eric liked the direction it was going, and I set out to make the movie.

I guess an easy route for making the sequel would be to make a film similar in style and structure to the first film. Since it's not every day that I get to make a movie, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity by making something different. Being a sequel, I felt there should be some strong connections with the first film. Lisa A. Morrison, who played Mikki in the original, comes back to reprise her role in the sequel. There was a voice-over character at the end of the original film that comes forward as a full-fledged character in SAVAGE HARVEST 2 (played by Eric Stanze himself). There are various other plot threads that fans of the original film will see addressed in the sequel, so I feel that SAVAGE HARVEST 2 is a genuine continuation of the story started by Eric that expands the mythos onto a much larger canvas than the original film.

Similarities aside, I made great efforts to ensure that SAVAGE HARVEST 2 was its own animal and not just another tired genre exercise. One of the things I really focused on was the characterization. I felt that the original movie didn't really have much in the way of characterization, but I don't find that to be a major flaw in the movie since I don't think it was Stanze's intention to create characters with big, sweeping character arcs. SAVAGE HARVEST is a tight, claustrophobic film with style and energy to burn that took place over a 24-hour period. With SAVAGE HARVEST 2, I wanted to pull back and give the characters a little breathing room. I think the shooting style reflects this. With the exception of a few occasional bursts of horror and gore, the environment, though filled with a sense of dread, is mostly stable. There aren't any fancy camera acrobatics. The plot is conveyed through story composition, editing and performances. It gives the characters a chance to live and breathe and ponder their lives in the aftermath of the events from the first film. As the story progresses, the story begins to spiral into a maelstrom of chaos and the shooting style definitely reflects this. There is a lot of dialog in the film, but as the story progress, that gradually goes away. Towards the end of the film, there isn't any dialog at all. It's all primal emotions, which is something I'm quite happy with.

Since I was going to be living with this project for a few years, I thought I'd take SAVAGE HARVEST 2 one step further and interweave a lot of myself into the characters of the film. I think there are a lot of aspects of myself in various characters, especially in the character of Tyge Murdock, played by Benjamin Gaa (DEADWOOD PARK). Not only did this technique open the doors for me to add depth to the characters, I think it also gave the final film a voice that's distinctly its own, which is something I set out to do from the very beginning when I decided to make this flick.

I think SAVAGE HARVEST 2 does what a sequel should do. It takes the story of what came before and takes it in a new direction while maintaining the essence of the original material. It's got all the things you'd expect from a SAVAGE HARVEST movie (namely tons of gore), but it gives audiences a taste of something different as well, which is something I think all sequels should do.

Name some of your favorite horror flicks and what ones have inspired your filmmaking.

Oh shit. This is going to be a tough one. I'm such a film nerd. I like so many things about so many different movies that it's kinda hard for me to narrow them down to a "Top Ten" list or something like that. I don't know how directly the films I like affect my filmmaking. I do know that they inspire me to get my butt out there and create work of my own. I guess they create in me a desire to remain connected to my creative self.

It's a rather eclectic mix of new and classic films that really get my creative juices flowing, both studio and independent films (while I do seem to connect more with independent films, I do appreciate the occasional studio film when all the elements come together). Films like THE ABANDONED, THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, THE BROOD, IRREVERSIBLE, THE BEYOND, PULSE (KAIRO), BEYOND THE DARKNESS (BUIO OMEGA), HALLOWEEN, BORDERLAND, CANDYMAN, SILENT HILL, DAWN OF THE DEAD (Romero), CEMETARY MAN, THE DESCENT, THE EVIL DEAD, THE REDSIN TOWER, THE EXORCIST, FRANKENSTEIN, HIGH TENSION, INSIDE, MARTIN, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Romero), MULBERRY STREET, SAW, MY LITTLE EYE, PUMPKINHEAD, RAVENOUS, ALIEN, THE RING (US remake), SESSION 9, I'LL BURY YOU TOMORROW, THE SIXTH SENSE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (original), THE THING, FRONTIER(S), and VIDERDROME are all films that I have appreciated for one reason or another. I really dig some of the great Hitchcock films like REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO, and PSYCHO. There's a little indie film from the 90's called CLEAN, SHAVEN that I absolutely love. It's not really classified as a horror film, but it definitely has a lot of elements to it that get under the skin, particularly with the sound design which is immensely effective. Some of the more surreal films from David Lynch like ERASERHEAD and LOST HIGHWAY have been inspiring to me. I'm sure there are a million films that I'm leaving out, but these are a sampling of some of the horror flicks that I enjoy.

One filmmaker that I've been impressed with lately has been Ti West. I loved THE ROOST and TRIGGER MAN. I was very impressed with the disciplined and minimalist craftsmanship that he brought to those films. Although I'm a bit wary about his upcoming CABIN FEVER sequel, I'll check it out because I think the dude has got some talent.

Of course, I have to mention Eric Stanze. Not only is he one of the best creative collaborators that I've had in my life, I honestly find his work to be inspiring to me. Not only does the man share my love for horror as a legitimate art form, but I can't help but admire the manner in which he makes his films. All of his films from SAVGE HARVEST to RATLINE are unique films and each has their own distinct personality. Furthermore, Eric doesn't let budget dictate his creativity. The man has never had a sufficient budget to work with his entire career, and yet he sets out to make the most creative film that he can regardless of his budget. I can't think of better inspiration than that.

What would be your dream project?

To be honest with you, each film that I get to do is my dream project. I think it's a miracle that I even get to make movies in the first place. While I do enjoy acting, I also want to develop my skills as a filmmaker. SAVAGE HARVEST 2 was a modestly-budgeted feature (to say the least) and I would like to be able to direct another smaller-scaled picture before moving on to more ambitious projects. I think being able to work under such constraints can afford me the opportunities to explore personal issues without having studio heads leering over me. It's a freedom that I enjoy and that's something that I'm afraid of losing as each project gets bigger in scale. Wicked Pixel Cinema is growing in that direction, which is an amazing thing, but again, I think I'd like to tackle another smaller project, whether through Wicked Pixel or on my own, before heading up a big project for Wicked Pixel.

It's been a running joke that anyone who wants to direct films for Wicked Pixel Cinema needs to make a SAVAGE HARVEST movie first. I'm so personally attached to SAVAGE HARVEST 2 that I have entertained the notion of doing a third SAVAGE HARVEST film, but I think I'd want to explore some other avenues before returning to the well, as they say. I have a couple ideas currently in development but the future of Wicked Pixel Cinema is going in so many exciting directions that I'm not sure as of yet how my filmmaking ambitions will fit into that game plan at this point in time.


Filming a shot almost too artsy to be in a horror movie...

You also act on the side, do you like being behind the camera calling the shots or in front creating a character?

I truly love doing both and I think the fact that I indulge myself on both sides of the camera has enabled me to build on my filmmaking skills as a whole. The more I act, the better understanding of actors I have when I direct. The more I direct, the better understanding of the filmmaking process I'll have, which in turn, has a significant effect on how I give a performance as an actor.

I've been acting since I was in high school, doing high school and community theater (I even did some musicals if you can believe it). While attending college, I was able to act in some student films and I made my acting debut in ICE FROM THE SUN for Eric, so when I finished college back in 1999 I really shifted my focus to acting for film. I know a lot of actors feel that the stage is the arena of choice compared to film in terms of acting (theater is an actor's medium, whereas film is a director's medium), but I feel that acting in film is just as valid as acting on the stage. Aside from the more natural and nuanced acting style that lends itself more to film than the stage, the permanence of cinema is what really attracted me to acting in film. While I truly enjoyed the thrill and excitement that acting on stage can provide, I was always let down that it was always such a limited experience. Only so many people would be able to see any stage production that I was in, and once it was done, that's it. It'll never exist again. Film, on the other hand, like a photograph that captures a singular moment of time and space, is something that can be shared with different audiences repeatedly until the end of time (or at least until the new home video format comes along). Film doesn't have the organic quality that theater has, but like any form of art, your appreciation of it changes with the passage of time and with the people that you experience that art with.

I've been lucky over the years that I've been able to work with some talented people. It's nice to be able to set your mind at ease, knowing that the film production is in solid hands, so you can set out to focus on your performance. There have been a few roles that I've played in recent years that I felt were merely extensions of myself, but lately I've had the opportunity to play some complex roles (like in RATLINE) which has really allowed me to express myself in new ways, which is really exciting. I hope I'll be able to continue that trend of playing a variety of different characters in the future. I do like to watch the films that I'm in. It's not an ego trip. I feel that's really the only way I can learn to improve on my craft, since unlike theater, I don't get any kind of feedback until months later after I've given my performance. I can now objectively watch my performance to see what worked and what didn't work and apply what I've learned on the next film that I do.

As much as I enjoy acting, I don't know if it'll ever be the main focus in my career. I really enjoy writing, directing and editing to the point that I wouldn't ever want to phase them out of my creative life entirely. For me, directing isn't merely calling the shots. It's about bringing a multitude of different elements together to create a world and to tell a story. It's hard to describe, but the process of "finding the shot", to forever capture a moment in time within a frame is very appealing to me. It's especially exciting to string various shots together into an edited sequence (unless I fucked up on set and didn't get all the shots I needed). The whole process of filmmaking is interconnected for me. After all, variety is the spice of life. It's hard to imagine just doing one thing for the rest of my life.

You've been a supporter of indie horror for as long as I can remember, what would you suggest people trying to get their self-produced film attention do?

The first thing I would say might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how often it stops people in their tracks - get out there and make a film! The technology is out there and it's getting more and more affordable all the time. I've talked to various people over the years that are basically waiting for the stars to align, for all the elements to fall perfectly into place before setting out to make their project. Filmmaking isn't something you can learn in a classroom. Yeah, you'll get an understanding of the process and the tools at your disposal, but the only real way to understand filmmaking is to get off your ass and make a damn film. You'll probably crash and burn a few times, but at least you can learn from your mistakes (if you're paying attention, that is). I think some people are waiting for a "proper" budget before finally setting out to make their film, but if you have no experience, why the fuck should anyone in their right mind give you any money? If you have a few projects under your belt showing that you have the skills, you'll have more ammo to get out there and get the budget for future projects.

Another thing that I had to learn the hard way was that you can't rely on your distributor to do all the marketing work for you. Yeah, it is the responsibility of the distributor to get the word out, but with such a saturation of titles on the market, you really need to make every effort yourself to make people aware of your film. I honestly don't know how people made movies without the use of the internet, but modern social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter can be a great way to get out there and meet new people to let them know who you are and what you're all about. Going to horror conventions have been a great way for us to meet and interact with fans and film-lovers in general. I think we've really broadened our fan base by making such public appearance. Simply put, you really have to go that extra step and take it upon yourself to create a marketing buzz that will help build enthusiasm for your film before it gets released, and maintain awareness so it doesn't fade into oblivion once it does hit the marketplace.


Ladies and gentlemen, Jason Christ

What's next for WP?

We're currently entering the post-production phase of our latest production, RATLINE. It's a violent and brutal mix of crime drama and supernatural horror starring Emily Haack (SCRAPBOOK, SAVAGE HARVEST 2: OCTOBER BLOOD), Sarah Swofford (SUGAR CREEK), Alex Del Monacco, DJ Vivona (ICE FROM THE SUN, CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE) and myself. Eric Stanze (who is directing the film) co-wrote the script with me, and the film, which began production last October, will be having its final days of pick-ups shooting this month before the editing begins. We're all very excited about how this film has turned out. It's a return to more "in your face" horror that we've been known for with ICE FROM THE SUN and SCRAPBOOK. DEADWOOD PARK was a bit of a departure for us. That film focused less on gore and attempted to build tension through atmosphere and suggestion. I think Wicked Pixel took a large, creative step forward with that film and we're bringing everything that we learned on DEADWOOD PARK to this production... with way more bone-crushing violence for all the kids. It'll be fun for the whole dysfunctional family!

After that, I couldn't honestly tell you what lies in store for Wicked Pixel. We have a couple scripts written that we'd like to see produced, but that all depends on whether or not we secure the proper funding. We're entertaining the idea of breaking out into other genres, like comedy, but again, whatever we do next will largely depend on the funding we can secure.

What's next for Jason Christ?

After finishing work on DEADWOOD PARK, I acted in an independent flick called STUDENT OF LEISURE, a comedic drama written and directed by Mark Cange. It's finishing up post-production now and will hopefully be released later on this year. You can find out more information on the film by checking out the Optically Sound website at www.opticallysound.com.

Other than that, the future is wide open at the moment. There are a lot of avenues that I'd like to explore, and while RATLINE is in post-production I'll have some time on my hands to make that happen. I'm excited to see RATLINE come full circle. It was an extremely challenging film to make and I'm curious to see people's reactions to the film once it's been unleashed.

Tell me a little bit about the inventive approach to getting RATLINE made.

Thanks to the shitty economy, we've had an extremely difficult time raising the budget for RATLINE. Even though the film is almost entirely shot, we still need to obtain the rest of the budget as the film enters into post-production. In response to this, we've taken a grassroots approach to offer people a chance to make a direct contribution to the making of a motion picture. For a small amount of money, people can not only get a screen credit in a finished film, but have a direct impact on aiding the completion of the film, either through donations or investments. Every dollar spent goes directly to the completion of RATLINE. Given the fact that the film is already shot, that would be a pretty solid investment for interested individuals looking to sink their money into a creative venture such as filmmaking. For more detailed information on this unique opportunity, simply go to www.wickedpixel.com/getcredit.html.


How a Savage Harvest demon looked circa 1994


Images are by Wicked Pixel/Jason Christ.