Mark Duffield interview

In Thai Spirits

The Ghost of Mae Nak tells the story of Nak and Mak, a newly-wedded couple who find themselves haunted by the restless spirit of a woman from the past, which is now trapped inside an amulet. When Mak is involved in an accident, it’s up to his wife to resolve the mystery, as her husband’s only hope. It’s a successful fusion of Hollywood film-making with Eastern horror, taking the “dark-haired ghost girl” motif, familiar from many recent entries, but adding some new elements and delivering it with Western polish – as well as impressive moments of gore! We talked to writer/director Mark Duffield about the legend behind the film, and the difficulties of making a movie in a language you don’t actually speak…

Trash City: Tell us about your background – and how does a British cinematographer end up making a Thai horror film?
Mark Duffield: I was born in India, raised and educated in England and I live in London. My passion for film developed at an early age and I made several short films on 8mm, 16mm and video. I started professionally as a stills photographer and developed my passion for cinematography. I built up a showreel and eventually got to work on 35mm feature films. I have worked as a cinematographer on 8 British feature films. I have also developed my skills as a writer and have written and directed several short films. Recently I teamed up with Brian Clemens writer of 1960’s TV series The Avengers and writer/director of Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter as well, as many other genre movies. Together we made a short film called Face to Face.

I first traveled to Thailand in 2001 to work on the British feature film Butterfly Man. In 2003 I was awarded Best Cinematographer at the Slamdunk Festival in Park City for my cinematography. During my stay in Thailand I became fascinated with Thai ghost stories and heard of a shrine that is devoted to a Thai ghost called Mae (Mother) Nak. I visited the shrine as was fascinated to see hundreds of Thai people pray to Mae Nak and ask her for a blessing or guidance.

TC: The legend was also used as the basis of Nang Nak, one of the biggest Thai films of all time. How would you say your film differs from that, or other versions of the story?
MD: The film was conceived because I became fascinated with the Mae Nak legend and her tragic love story. I also discovered that there had been many films about her over the last 50 years. I watched the definitive Mae Nak film, the period film Nang Nak, directed by Nonzi Nimibut. This film concluded with the ‘evil’ spirit of Mae Nak being held captive in a piece of bone cut from her forehead by an exorcist monk, and the bone was lost in time. It was here that I was inspired to write my script and continue the Mae Nak story. I feel that Ghost of Mae Nak is an unofficial continuation of Nang Nak so it was good to have a comparison or connection.

In Thailand Mae Nak is a legend and there are many stories about her. A lot of people believe the legend to be true and the monk who exorcised her did exist. The legend is as famous to Thailand as Dracula or Jack The Ripper is to the West. My film differs because it is a contemporary version set in present day Bangkok and told with my Western influence as writer and director. I was keen to show Mae Nak as a protector of the young newly wedded couple but also show the dark side of her terrorizing or cursing those who try to come between the couple.

Apart from some of the classic Mae Nak films of the 1950’s and the definitive Mae Nak period film Nang Nak, most Mae Nak films were hysterical horror comedies with very low production value. I felt I was doing something new and original so I was very excited by the script and the reaction I was getting from Thai industry professionals. I had total freedom to make my version and was totally supported by the Thai production and distribution companies. As a Western film writer and director I was keen to give the Mae Nak legend a Western or European feel. This would mean authentic casting, realistic locations, special effects and a different faster pace. I was not telling the Mae Nak legend again but introducing it into a contemporary modern setting and giving the Ghost of Mae Nak ‘closure’. She is a ghost who needs to find peace so she may be with her true love. I wanted to make a film that I felt was truthful to the legend and myself.

TC: Would it perhaps have been easier to take the script, and re-locate it to the UK or US? Was translating your story into Thai tricky?
MD: The Ghost of Mae Nak is based on a Thai ghost legend and I wanted to be truthful to that legend and make the film in Thailand. But your observation is accurate, in seeing the ease in making the film in the UK or US, this is because the story is a universal story and works in any part of the world. Translating my English language written script into to Thai was tricky because it was important for me to get an accurate translation and clarity in the story. This process took 12 weeks to do. With regards to re-locating the script in the UK or USA, I think it would be possible but it would mean reinventing the legend. I do own all the script rights and have an outline for an American version that is very original.

TC: I believe Pataratida Pacharawirapong is a pop singer and model in Thailand, without much movie experience – did you have any qualms about casting her in a film such as this?
MD: Yes, you are right: Pataratida Pacharawirapong (“Tangmo”) is a pop singer and model, but she has also acted in serious television dramas. I actually auditioned her on the set of one of her television soaps because of her tight schedule. I wanted to find lead actors who were the characters. A Thai casting agent and myself auditioned many new actors. We would look for new up-and-coming actors and luckily we were able to secure “C”, Siwat Chotchaicharin, to play Mak and “Tangmo” to play Nak. They had both worked in Thai television dramas so this was their first feature film. During the filming, they were both awarded ‘Best New Talent for Television’ which was a bonus for the Ghost. This brought a lot of attention to the film, which was great. What I really like about them is that I believe in their relationship and they look like they belong together; an important casting note for directors.

TC: The culture in Thailand seems much more spiritual than in the West – everyone seems open to the idea a restless spirit is involved. Was that part of the appeal of locating the film there, and are there any cultural references Western viewers might miss?
MD: I had spent some time in Thailand and got to know the culture well. I was fascinated by the ghost stories, Buddhist rituals and the very contemporary way of life people have there. I was keen to explore these themes in my script and researched and interviewed many Thai people about their experiences and beliefs. The importance of family, wedding ceremonies, use of language and exorcism rituals made them vital to get right. It took a lot of work but it was exciting and fun to do. Thai people do believe in ghosts and are very superstitious – ot’s common practice for Thais to wear Buddhist amulets to protect them from evil spirits. Some of my crew constantly wore them to protect them from Mae Nak.

Before we began filming, the entire Ghost of Mae Nak cast and crew went to the Mae Nak shrine to make an offering and ask for permission to make a film about her. This is an actual shrine to Mae Nak where many Thai people ask her for guidance and blessing. I felt she gave us her blessing as the filming went very smoothly and it was a joy to direct. The film was released all over Thailand and went to #3 in the Thai box-office. There was a big media attended Premiere in Bangkok. The distribution company actually built a Mae Nak shrine outside the cinema on the sidewalk. They had an official Buddhist consecration ceremony with monks and the cast attending, that was headline news on Thai TV. This was to pay respects to Mae Nak and bring good luck to the film; people took the shrine very seriously and would even pray in front of it.

As for a Thai cultural reference, I was keen to show and include the Fortune Teller in the story. It is normal practice for newly wedded Thai couples and Thais in general to visit fortune tellers for astrological guidance in all occasions. Thanapath Si-Ngamrath the actor who played Master Tring is a well-known celebrated Fortune Teller and I was delighted to have him in the film. He brought some of his authentic amulets and ritual objects to use in his scene.

TC: How does shooting a film in Thailand compare to shooting one in the West? Were there any unexpected difficulties?
MD: As a British director making a horror movie in Thailand I faced many challenges. The most obvious one is the language. I don’t speak Thai even though I had written and directed a Thai-based horror story. At first it was difficult, but filmmaking is a slow process and we eventually learned to find ways to communicate. Of course I had translators, and there was the script, which was written in English and translated perfectly into Thai to work from. As a director I had to be precise about what I wanted and always double-checked the information was clearly conveyed. A film director is highly-regarded in Thailand which also means it becomes a responsible role.

Bangkok film crews are highly-skilled, so the film making process was no different to making a movie in the West and the language of filmmaking is universal. I guess the biggest difficulty and challenge for me was directing a movie in a language that I don’t speak, but I was congratulated by many Thai people, film industry professionals and the movie going audiences on how successful the film was. I guess the biggest “unexpected” event that took place during the filming was that it was a wonderful trouble-free shoot. Filmmaking can be a bit like walking a tightrope, and things often go wrong during it, but I felt as though Mae Nak wanted us to make this film.

TC: The Bangkok that you show is different from the one usually portrayed in the West – it’s very much a “working” city, chaotic, crowded and lived-in. Was that a conscious choice?
MD: Yes. I was keen to show a modern side of Bangkok that was truthful to my experience and to the story I wanted to tell. I am pleased that you have observed my choice. I hope my vision of Bangkok will show Westerners a realistic and exciting portrayal of Thailand that we don’t usually see.

TC: The scene everyone remembers is the one involving the falling pane of glass. What was the inspiration for that, and how did you go about carrying it out?
MD: The sheet of glass death scene was inspired by The Omen. I wanted to try and further that idea. Originally I was going to have my victim sliced in three but then I saw Final Destination 2 had a similar freak death-scene. [TC: Amusingly, those are the exact two mentioned in my review, written before this interview!] I then went to an exhibition called Body Worlds in which German scientist/artist Gunther Von Hagens displays dissected human bodies in his Plastination process. One display showed a body being sliced down the middle and I saw the potential and came up with the concept.

We filmed this scene at the Tobacco Studios backlot where we built a street set lined with market stalls and traffic. Nirun Changklang, the actor who played Ant, had to visit the effects company First Ideas to have made a full life-size cast of his entire body in latex. The authentic looking body-cast was literally sliced in half from his head through to his groin and then joined back together with a hinge. On set the stunt company Baan Rig wired up the two large sheets of glass (Plexiglas) to fall on cue. The life-size Ant figure was treated like a giant puppet with wirework to support him and control the split. Later the CGI effects company Digital Lab would enhance this with computer generated wire removal and digital blood. The scene also required a stunt vehicle and driver for the screeching bus, stunt extras to jump out of the way, a trained dog to pick up Ant’s severed arm, and a bucket full of animal offal to add grossness to the “Grand Guignol” scene. The Ghost of Mae Nak DVD will feature my Director’s Video Diary as an extra that will visually show how the death scenes were filmed as well as the day-to-day film making process.

TC: I kept expecting the character of Kong to meet a similarly gruesome fate, but he almost vanished from the movie, in a way that seemed somewhat sudden; was there an intention to do more with him?
MD: Originally Kong the stalker was going to die; this was written in the script and filmed. But I decided during the edit that his death would only make the ghost vengeful so I cut the scene out, and in the finished film his fate is to stare at the empty grave of Mae Nak. Kong’s death scene involved the following: Kong stares at the empty grave of Mae Nak’s skeleton. He goes to leave but discovers the metal gate is shut tight. He then sees the pickax on the other side of the grave. He returns to the grave, jumps over it and trips and falls with his head narrowly missing the sharp point of the pickax. He straightens himself up, grabs the pickax and turns to see the ghost of Mae Nak at the gate. He is mesmerized by her and steps forward, falling into the open grave. The pickax he holds impales his thigh pinning him down. He looks up from the grave screaming and calling for help but sees the ghost standing over him with her ‘death face’. The ground rumbles, earth crumbles and Kong is buried alive. The grave is filled and camouflaged with falling leaves.

TC: Did you make the film principally for the Thai market, with international distribution a secondary aim, or was it the other way around?
MD: I made the film for the Thai and International markets. I am a Western filmmaker so I was keen to get my film seen internationally. I also felt I had written a universal story that had a uniqueness for an Asian horror film. Surprisingly Ghost of Mae Nak has been selected for several International film festivals across the world and not just the ‘horror/fantasy’ festivals. It has had a great reception from a wide range of audiences.

TC: This marked your feature-directing debut, as opposed to being a cinematographer. How was the experience, and what was the biggest thing you learned from it?
MD: Yes, Ghost of Mae Nak is my first feature as writer and director and cinematographer, and I had a wonderful journey making it. The speed in which the film developed was like doing a studio movie. The script took three months to write and was funded with a Thai distribution deal a few months after that. I spent four months in pre-production, six weeks production and four months post production. So, from concept to the Bangkok premiere was exactly two years and the Tartan USA DVD release will complete the third year.

Being a first time director and handling the cinematography was exciting. Cinematography is a passion and I had shot eight feature films before this. I think visually, so it was a joy to light my own film. Because this was a big production on a low budget with its many locations and sets, I was able to work very fast and concentrate on lighting just the areas I knew I would film. However, I did have a camera operator, Ryan Goddard, a Canadian based in Bangkok, who was excellent at handling the 35mm camera, which can be physically demanding. I would have no problem working with a cinematographer on my next film – if that is the case, I’d support them 100% as I know what they have to go through to achieve results. And the biggest thing I learned is, that it would be fun to do again – but ideally it would be nice to have more time and budget like the Hollywood movies do.

TC: What are your future plans? Do you plan to make further movies in Thailand?
MD: I am writing an exciting new horror script set in the US in English language. I do have several other spec horror scripts I have written and I am also rewriting or fine-tuning them. This is something I always do with my scripts until they get made. My subjects are vampires, the occult + paranormal and witches; I do have a new Thai/Asian horror script but with Western characters and English language – it’s a great idea. I am keen to develop my passion for horror/fantasy films, and have some great, original ideas; however, I’m afraid I don’t want to reveal anything about my scripts as yet, but I will keep you posted.

Finally, I would like to thank Trash City for showing interest in the Ghost of Mae Nak and myself as writer and director. I would like to thank the fans of Ghost of Mae Nak: I appreciate your support. For those who have not seen it, I hope you will give the Ghost a chance, and allow yourself to be taken for a ghostly thrill in Bangkok, Thailand. It will be released on DVD, with extras, by the Tartan USA Asian Extreme label on 10th October. I hope fans will want to learn more about the making, and newcomers will discover a new horror legend from Thailand in the Ghost of Mae Nak.

[Many thanks to Debbi at Tartan for arranging the interview, and Mark for his detailed responses]

The Lance Catania Interview: searching for the Holy Grail of terror

“Every idiot with a DV camera & a gallon of blood is a horror director.”

Cup of my Blood is definitely one of the most inventive horror movies of 2005, combining horror, religion and sex to striking effect. It marks the feature debut of director Lance Catania, yet he’s no novice behind the camera, having worked two decades in the commercial field – and with even more experience than that, as you’ll shortly see…

You got your first camera at the age of 9. Do you still have any of your early creations?
My Mom still has a lot of my kid-films. Big surprise, most of them were Dracula films. After I saw Night of the Living Dead, they turned to zombie films. I started listening to Black Sabbath in junior high and my films started getting really dark and serious. I would try to sync a cassette deck playing Black Sabbath and another dark band called Lucifer’s Friend, along with my increasingly surreal films. My friends started hanging around less during that period! All those years of making films taught me the basics of shooting, editing, color temperatures, special effects, how to tell a story. By the time I started film school, I had already taught myself the first three years of the program.

It’s your first feature, after a long time working in advertising. What took you so long? 🙂
Money. It’s the oldest cop-out, but it’s true. I got married the first time very young and started a family. I couldn’t just go out to L.A. and try to make it in features, I had a family to support. So, over the years I continued to network with people and write. I always write. After 20 years of commercials and corporate projects, I reached a point where I realized if I were going to make that first film, I would have to pony up the money myself. Nobody was going to just give me half a million to make it. So, I convinced my partner at X-Ray Productions, Gene Cosentino, to go ahead and use the company to make the movie.

What did you find was the biggest difference between shooting a commercial and a feature?
Creative freedom. Commercials are stacked with clients. Ad agency creative directors, writers, account people, then there are the actual clients. Once I shot a Pepsi commercial, there were 14 clients lined up along three folding tables. Everybody wants something to say about the creative process, but none want to be accountable for it. If the commercial tanks, the director takes the fall. The only person I had to answer to on my film was me. Thats one of the great advantages to making an indie film. I’m sure studio films have the same group of people “helping” make creative decisions, like on a commercial.

The basic idea came to you while you were stuck in a traffic jam. But when and why did you decide to bring in the Holy Grail?
I really didn’t have a main focus for what was in the box, so the script just sat in my head. I had a personal tragedy in my life which caused me to re-think my faith. That’s when the whole idea of the grail came to me. When thinking what could be so important in the box that people would be after it and have this whole conspiracy angle, the grail was the perfect item. Every war fought has had religion as its core.

What research did you do, and what is your own religious background?
I grew up Catholic. Like a lot of people, I fell away for a while. I found things difficult to relate to in our world. When I asked questions I always got the same respose. That is the way it’s written. But no one would explain why. So, I just kept my sense of faith and went about my life. When I had that personal tragedy, I came back to that faith. I suppose I went through the typical phases. Anger, denial and acceptance. But the anger phase is when the first draft of the script came out – it was 250 pages of rage, frustration and anger. But over the next year, I kept re-writing. My anger turned into denial, and the script began to change and evolve. The denial turned to acceptance, and the script became what it is now.

I think it is a very pro-faith film. Reading the bible and studying the saints, you realize how incredibly violent the history of the Catholic faith is. I feel our film is very true to that. Men do horrible things to other men – our faith separates us. The character of Jack seems to be passive, but he always has the strength of his faith backing him up. After everyone has betrayed him, he holds strong and realizes his place and mission. Even when it demands that he commit a dreadful act on its behalf. He understands that it is his responsibility, and that it is right for him to do it.

There’s only one scene with conventional “organized religion”, when Jack tries to hand over the box. Was it a deliberate decision to all but sideline the church in the film?
In the first half dozen drafts of the script, Father Ferrin and the church were much more involved. I thought it was starting to feel very preachy and some thought it painted the church in a less favorable light. The other characters each had their own faith and religion that was explored. The whole film was starting to feel like a world religion lesson and less like a horror film. So we started stripping down: what was the core story we were telling? It’s a love story about Jack and his dead wife, and how his faith allows him to forgive himself.

Once that was fleshed out, we wanted to make sure that religion was still a major factor, but not the biggest. People are always looking for answers, to de-mystify things that defy logical explanation. If the actual grail could be found – which I’m not saying it hasn’t – it could be studied. Does it really have power? If it doesn’t, an entire faith might crumble when it finds out it is only an ancient cup that was used by a normal mortal two thousand years ago. But if it does, what does that mean for science? The big bang theory, where we come from, the meaning of life? Now things would get really crazy, and religion could become very dangerous. Ruled by superstition and a fear of things that can’t be explained, it’s in man’s nature to get the upper hand over other men. That’s why the grail’s powers are so frightening. People don’t know what they would do if they were in possession of it. They know their own temptations. They then transfer those bad or sinful temptations to others who might be in possession of it.

Do you think The Da Vinci Code helped open doors for your film?
I wrote the first draft of my script about a year before Code came out. As soon as it did, everyone would say, “Hey, it sounds like Da Vinci code.” I still have yet to read the books. I didn’t want his vision of the grail and it’s mythology to influence mine. We definitely wanted our film to come out before the Ron Howard-Tom Hanks extravaganza. I think our film is a very intimate and personal look at the whole topic and faith in general.

How did you find the film changed from conception to completion?
It’s pretty close in tone to what I envisioned while writing. A lot of filmakers feel if they get 75% of their vision on screen, they’re happy. I got about 95% of my vision on screen. It’s incredible. I think it is a testament to the collaboration of my producers, entire production staff and crew. I have them to thank for how the film came out. It’s dark, beautiful and meaningful.

Jack and his photographs are an important part of the movie: was that always the case, or did that aspect slot into place as the project evolved?
I was always planning on Jack being a photographer. I thought it would be an interesting extension of the idea of someone making art that is religious based, yet erotic, beautiful. Much like ancient artists created icons and art that told biblical stories. As time went and the internet blossomed, the next logical extension of erotic art was internet porn. The interesting aspect of it, though, is the whole 2nd cuming web-site. This gave me a vehicle to tie web-porn to religion with the mirror 2nd cuming/second coming web-sites. This was intriguing to me because of using technology to drive the whole idea of what Christ would come back as. Perfection. Artificial intellegence. The idea was always there, but I think that during filming, it got fleshed out more. The actors really invested themselves emotionally into their roles, inventing backstories and motivations for their actions. That totally impacted the integrity of those ideas, and made them come to life.

There’s an interesting look to the movie: what was your aim, and how did you go about achieving it?
Black and white photography has always been a passion of mine. During pre-production, we interviewed various photographers to take “Jack’s” photos. I was so busy with rehearsals and meetings, I didn’t think I would be able to devote the attention those photos required. But it was evident after looking at their work, that none of their styles matched what I wanted Jack’s photos to be. So a week before production, we brought all the actresses in for 1 day. I shot hundreds of photos in my studio. Most of them ended up in the movie. It really worked out amazingly because it gave me the opportunity to work with the actresses one by one in a very close, personal way. That allowed us to really develop their characters in a totally non-verbal fashion. We came up with their whole physical being, body language, attitudes, palette of expression. It really worked out for the best: the film would not be the same without that photo session.

What were your influences making Cup?
The biggest influence was really The Exorcist It is about faith and redemption, and is one of the best films ever made. Blackhawk Down was an influence in its visual style. Ridley Scott is a master of his visual style, painting the tone of his films. The color palette really struck a chord with me, with how it made me feel about the characters in the film. The Ring is an influence in tone. I am the biggest horror fan you’ll ever find, but I’m so tired of shitty horror movies. 99% of them are shit. Most directors have nothing to say, or are too young to have anything of merit to say. So, you go with the lowest common denominators: Sex and Blood.

Now, I do enjoy those also, but within the context of an interesting story. The Ring was a smart film that didn’t rely on gore and teens making fun of horror films to succeed. It got back to the thing that makes a memorable film. Emotions and relationships. A mother protecting her child from evil. The films that live and endure are the ones that people can relate to on an emotional level. That’s what I admired about The Ring. It is mature and treats the audience like adults. Most horror films flooding the DVD shelves treat the audience like a 13 year old boy: fart jokes and boobies. Unfortunately, some of the fan magazines are perpetuating the trend by giving coverage to that shit, legitimizing it among the horror fans. I for one am sick to death of it. More horror fans should write them to complain.

You shot on HD video; how did that compare to shooting on film?
Having a film background really made it easy to jump into the HD world. A lot of video D.P.’s have a hard time because they only know how to light for video. Therefore their HD footage looks like video. Up until about a week before production we were still planning on shooting super 16mm film. The cost difference was biggest in post, dealing with film negative to video transfers. Thats really where we saved money. Also, the cost saved in production time was huge. With film, every time you are about to do a shot, you stop for five minutes and give the lighting one more look over and tweaks. That adds tons of time to each set up. With HD, I knew exactly what I was getting without taking that extra time. Most of the time I would just light to my eye and not bother with the monitor.

The most important difference was my ability to really work the actors. With film, every time you want to give a little direction to the actors, you need to cut. The film is so expensive, you simply cannot keep rolling. So, then you talk to the actors, call for sound to roll, then camera to roll, then action. By the time you are rolling again, you’ve lost the moment with the actors. It’s very distracting. Because the HD tape was cheaper than film, I was able to keep rolling, whisper directions to the actors and keep right on going. That really helped the actors stay in the moment, take the directions and move on. That was one of the main reasons we’ve got such brilliant performances. The only problem was my editor, Salvatore Pecoraro, was really pissed because we ended up with 40 hours of footage for him to go through!

There’s an interesting look to the movie: what was your aim, and how did you go about achieving it?
I wanted the film to feel dark and heavy, like there is a physical and emotional weight to it. Even the daytime exterior scenes, I wanted to feel dark. Along with the quality of light, the color palette was important. We used greens, ambers and earth tones in everything. Art direction, wardrobe, even the blood recipes were designed with this palette in mind. I spent two days before shooting with my HD Tech, Marco, and set up the look of the camera. We had two looks: daytime and night time. For day, we wanted a cold, greenish-blueish cast to it. It really conveyed the feeling of societal and spiritual decay. Then, because it was so urban, the night has an amber cast. This looks like the ambient light caused by that those creepy sodium vapor street lights, rather than blue moon light.

What strategy was there for the music, and the sound design in general?
In terms of music, I’ve always imagined this as a very urban film. Even though I love the classic gothic kind of string-based scores for horror films, it just didn’t seem to fit conceptually with the film. During the three years I was writing and rewriting, I always listened to the same CD: the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The quirky free-form jazz sound really struck a chord with me – it felt urban and kind of gritty and underground, made me feel the vibe while I was writing. The Sparky and Limpy characters really evolved from listening to that music, so much so that while Robert Mcnaughton was composing, I really wanted Sparky’s theme to feel very “Twin Peaksian”. He captured it beautifully. Sound is amazingly important to a horror film, and the sound design the guys did was incredible, very deep and intricate – at some points there were up to 40 tracks of subtle things going on.

Did you have a clear idea of the characters in your mind when writing the script, or did the actors who auditioned bring unexpected angles to their roles?
Yes, I always had very specific images of the charactes in my head while writing. When we began auditioning, we threw all that away and just looked for the best actors. Some of the roles were written for very different types they ended up being. In the case of Scooter, that part was written for a twenty something computer geek. Quianna came in and was so brilliant, we re-wrote that role, along with Nibbles, to include much more intersting qualities than originally existed. The movie got a lot better after we cast it. Most roles were re-written for the actors. They made it come to life.

How long was the shoot? Did filming in Chicago in winter pose any special problems?
We shot 16 days. Then I did two days of pick up establishing shots. The whole shoot was gloomy and 40 degrees. Perfect for the tone of the film. We were so lucky to have that. Then the day we were to shoot the car crash scene, it snowed four inches. Great, what do we do now? Keep shooting. The snow was gone the next day, but in afterthought, helped the mood of the film. The night we shot the alley scene where Memoli gets gutted, it was hour 17 and started to rain. We got two takes before the crew gave me the, “we’re gonna kill you in five minutes” look. Chicago is totally unpredictable. The saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait five minutes.” The problem was the pick up days. The day we wrapped, the weather broke. It got sunny and nice. I couldn’t do the establishing shots because the didn’t fit visually in tone. I had to wait two weeks. Monday morning, I came to work and it was gloomy and foggy. Whoo hooo! I grabbed the camera and ran out. It was worth the wait. Those are some of my favorite shots in the movie.

On the DVD, you say that the discovery of the pool location led to script changes to make use of it. Did this happen in any other ways?
The fact that Janina was Indian and Daniela, her lover, being German led to an interesting change. During the final love-making scene, we thought it would be cool that both women speak their native tongues, yet understand each other. It helped create an other-worldliness to their relationship. So, we re-wrote that scene to include Janina speaking Hindi and Daniela speaking German.

The original cut of the film was 2 1/2 hours long. How do you go about taking 45 minutes out, while leaving the content and atmosphere intact? Was there anything you were particularly reluctant to remove, but that had, in the end, to go?
It was brutal. That whole 1 page per minute is bullshit. If it were true, I’d have a 99 minute film. I had to make huge cuts. In fact an entire character was cut out of the film. The footage exists on the DVD, which is totally cool. People can see an awesome performance from Gary Sugarman that was deleted from the movie. At first I tried to make lots of little cuts, but it wasn’t even close. I was still at 2 hours and 15 minutes. So, we made the decision to cut the “George” character [the caretaker of the health-club where Jack swims]. In hindsight, it was really the best decision. His performance was awesome, but as the story and tone came together, his character kind of stood out as odd. It didn’t fit the feel of the rest of the film anymore. Lots of other stuff too. Much more with Nibbles and Scooter. I love that footage. The acting is brilliant. But, again, the pace was slowed down by it. I’ve taken criticism about the pace already being slow.

These days, it often seems harder to find distribution for a movie than to make one. Was that the case for Cup?
That is totally the case. We were lucky to hook up with Susan Jackson, the Executive Producer from Cabin Fever. She saw our trailer and said she wanted to be part of it. She set up the deals with our domestic distributor MTI, and our foreign distributor Shoreline Entertainment.

There is a tremendous surplus of horror films. Every idiot with a DV camera and a gallon of blood is a horror director. Some of the major distributors looked at our film, but said, “we already have 15 horror films on our plate, we don’t need another one.” But that goes back to what I said about the horror business in general. It sucks. Yeah, they have 15 horror films, but 14 of them are shit. As long as they have some crap in a colorful cover to slap up on the DVD shelves. Horror is always in, but good horror lasts. The future is in the “micro-distributors”. Small companies who have edgy product and market on the web and fan-zines. They can keep marketing costs down and keep the product available to the people who want it, for a reasonable price.

How has the reaction been to the movie?
Surprisingly, I really haven’t gotten much of a reaction from religious people; mostly the reviewers and fan sites comment about how blasphemous it it, maybe one or two really recognized how “pro-faith” the film is meant to be. I wasn’t interested in making it a “holy-roller” film, but at the same time religion always gets beaten up, so I wanted it to have a true feeling about religion. Religious history is wraught with violence, I think our film honestly portrays that without exploiting it.

The violence is meant to be unpleasant and realistic: quick, ugly, traumatic, not glamourizing it. Jack has buried his faith because of what happened to Tina, but it was always there, and it was all a test to see if his faith was strong enough. While rehearsing with Dan and Allie, we worked out this whole backstory of Tina’s affliction and how she felt that she was blessed to have it, because in her heart she knew Jack was meant for something great and she had to sacrifice herself in order for it to be seen through.

What lessons did you learn from this film? And looking back at it, would you have done anything differently?
I’m fortunate. Things worked out for the film, but we took a lot of precautions. The biggest reason our film worked was because we spent 3 months of preproduction. That gave us time to work out all of our logistics and more importantly rehearse with actors. We spent three weeks working with the actors. We had all the emotional arcs of all the characters and the blocking worked out ahead of time. By the time we hit the set, we were 90% there with performances. That was everything. When you don’t have money, your greatest resource is time.

You’re clearly a big horror fan, but do you intend to stay within the genre, or are you planning other avenues for future works?
We have optioned the rights to the Edward Lee novel, Messenger. I just finished the screenplay and am beginning pre-production. It’s a totally out of control, balls-out horror film. Very extreme, very controversial. We will need to have an unrated cut of them film. Lee is a master of horrific situations and imagery: his novels are haunting in their violent excess and sense of dread. We see the world very much alike.

Then, we have a film noir style thriller entitled, Call Back, that we are also beginning pre-pro on. I’ve begun writing a pilot script for a supernatural thriller TV show. I can’t say too much about it yet, but it will definitely push the envelope of what you can do on TV. It would be an awesome Sci-Fi Channel show. Or, if we are able to make it more extreme, it could really work as a Showtime or HBO show. We are already in talks with a major distribution company for it. I have a true crime project that is in development and a love story. Believe it or not. It will be a timeless love story, but told my way. Totally different. It’ll be the only, “love story/chick-flick”, that the guys are gonna dig too. I’m very excited by it.

What do you want audiences to get from Cup of My Blood?
I hope people will see the film and really think about it. I want it to stick with them, make them think about what frightens them. Not a cat jumping out of a closet kind of scare, but what scares their soul. There are many layers to the film. It’s not a “guy with a knife chasing co-eds around” kind of movie. I wanted to create a mood that was deeper than that. Questions of faith. How much do you love your spouse? Enough to help them kill themselves, risk spiritual suicide? Also, I hope they get the crap scared out of them. Especially regarding locker room showers.

[Thanks to Lance Catania for his time, enthusiasm and pics; all photos are copyright Lance Catania. Thanks also to Ed Baran for his help setting up the interview. The website for Lance’s company, X-Ray Productions, can be found here, and there’s also the film’s site too.]