By: Eric Stanze
Hi. I'm Eric. For the past fifteen years, I've been making independent movies for the global home video market. My production company is called Wicked Pixel Cinema. Under this banner, I've made the indie flicks ICE FROM THE SUN and SCRAPBOOK, as well as the short films compilation THE SEVERED HEAD NETWORK.
Before forming Wicked Pixel Cinema, I made SAVAGE HARVEST. I made a couple of movies before SAVAGE HARVEST, but I seldom admit to those (yeah, my name's in the credits... but it was that OTHER Eric Stanze who made those abominations).
I've also made movies for another company, Sub Rosa Studios. I was put in charge of their Sub Rosa Extreme line - a series of ultra low-budget slashers, exploitation movies, adult comedies, and Euro-style experimental horror movies. (Some Sub Rosa Extreme examples: INSANIAC, THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE, THE UNDERTOW, and I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE.)
Executive producing this line of movies was a great opportunity... mostly because these movies made decent money. But also because making "big" movies (like ICE FROM THE SUN, which took four years to complete) for my own company left little room to experiment in different cinematic styles. I learned to love that experimentation that the Sub Rosa Extreme quickie-flicks offered.
About three days ago, Wicked Pixel Cinema's "Second In Command" Jeremy Wallace called me up and announced, "Eric, you're writing an article for Monsters At Play."
"Okay." I said hesitantly. I was on the way out the door, headed for the bank to investigate an accounting issue. "What am I writing about?"
A pause from Jeremy... Then: "Write about making independent movies."
I asked, "Is this about Sub Rosa Extreme or is this about our Wicked Pixel Cinema movies?"
"Both. Try to explain the difference. Everybody lumps them together. Nobody can keep track of what is Wicked Pixel Cinema and what is not... I've even confused the hell out of Lawrence (Monsters At Play ringleader) with this. He's baffled. I've confused him. UN-CONFUSE him!"
You see, when it is a Wicked Pixel Cinema movie, it is our baby. We bust ass trying to make these movies as good as possible. They are very personal to us. When it is a Sub Rosa Extreme movie, we are delivering a product for another company. The shooting schedules are shorter and the budgets are not just smaller - they're microscopic. We try to make Sub Rosa Extreme movies profitable - not award-winning or critically acclaimed. When people confuse the two production banners, Jeremy gets very upset.
"Jeremy." I say, "You want me to hype the Wicked Pixel Cinema movies and apologize for the Sub Rosa Extreme movies. I don't think I should do that. We should just make each movie under the circumstances we're handed and for the reasons we have at the time... and then we'll let that movie find it's audience." (All movies eventually find their audience. Except for Sub Rosa Extreme's LAST HOUSE ON HELL STREET, which managed to find no audience whatsoever). "We shouldn't apologize for these movies. Especially since a lot of people like THE UNDERTOW or I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE more than our Wicked Pixel Cinema movies."
"I don't know about that." Jeremy argues.
"Take SAVAGE HARVEST for example." I say, referring to one of the movies we made for ourselves. (This conversation better wrap up fast. The damn bank closes in half an hour.)
Jeremy says "HARVEST has a very healthy fan base."
"Yeah, but HARVEST is of lower technical quality and it's not as well-constructed as UNDERTOW or CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE. If we run around saying SAVAGE HARVEST rules and UNDERTOW sucks, some people will wonder what the hell we're talking about! WE know SAVAGE HARVEST took years to complete, while UNDERTOW took only a few months... but that has no influence on which movie somebody may prefer."
A silent pause from Jeremy.
I suggest: "Hey, instead of just dividing our movies into two separate categories, I could talk about how each movie is unique, regardless of whether the movie is 'ours' or someone else's. Would this make a decent article for Monsters At Play?"
Jeremy agreed that this would be a good direction to go in. We hung up and I bolted out the door to catch the bank before they locked me out.
In a recent interview for Red Scream Magazine, I was asked why the hell I made a fucked-up experimental film (ICE FROM THE SUN), after completing a fairly straightforward horror flick (SAVAGE HARVEST). I responded by saying that I don't like to make the same kind of movie over and over.
This is one reason why the Sub Rosa Extreme quickie exploitation movies have had a positive impact on me. Instead of taking one to four years to make a single movie for my own company, I found myself supervising the production of five feature length movies a year for the first two years Sub Rosa Extreme was up and running. Yes, FIVE movies a year. Even now, I'm astounded by that.
Yes, the Sub Rosa Extreme budgets and schedules were miniscule. But on the up side, I got to experience a wide variety of movie projects in a very short period of time. This experience really was fulfilling in its own way, and it certainly fine-tuned my skills as a filmmaker. (You don't make five feature length movies in a year unless you become ultra-organized and really get your shit together.)
The Sub Rosa Extreme line did take it's toll on me in multiple ways. For one, that schedule was grueling ...and about two years of that was all I could physically and mentally take. (The Sub Rosa Extreme production output has been slowed to a trickle now.)
Also, I've been told these quickie flix have stunted my career. But I don't agree with that. The guy who loves SAVAGE HARVEST or ICE FROM THE SUN will hate I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE. But the guy who thinks SPIT is awesome will be very disappointed in HARVEST or ICE. Some see this as a negative... because, generally speaking, filmmakers try to please all the people all of the time. Knowing this is impossible, I choose to embrace the situation and not fight it. This gives me the freedom to experience producing a raunchy PORKY'S-style comedy (THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE) and a nasty Joe D'Amato style exploitation movie (SPIT) and an experimental ELM STREET meets David Lynch horror movie (INSANIAC) all in the same year. To me, that's pretty damn cool.
In addition, the Sub Rosa Extreme movies have done a LOT for my education in efficient, low-budget motion picture production. Last month I finished shooting the Wicked Pixel Cinema production of DEADWOOD PARK, the biggest film of my career. Skills honed on the various Extreme sets made me a better director, and DEADWOOD PARK a better movie.
For example, one Sub Rosa Extreme movie called CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE (a project I'm quite proud of) was shot in exactly one month. We had about fifteen shooting days spread out over the month of August, 2002. When August was over, I had other things scheduled to begin... so CHINA WHITE shooting was DONE, no matter what. Only through careful planning in pre-production and ultra-efficiency on the shooting days was CHINA WHITE successfully pulled off. This experience certainly enhanced the efficiency of DEADWOOD PARK's production. We were trying to make our horror epic DEADWOOD PARK look like 20 times its actual budget. And we were trying to do it in 55 days of shooting (a fast shoot by Hollywood standards). My experience on the Sub Rosa Extreme productions certainly helped me meet these objectives on DEADWOOD PARK.
On my last "big" movie before DEADWOOD PARK, my epic of chaos ICE FROM THE SUN, I worked with a very good cinematographer named David Berliner. For DEADWOOD PARK, I had a very specific look in mind for the cinematography. I knew it would be difficult to articulate the visuals I had in my head to a cinematographer. So I chose to be my own cinematographer on DEADWOOD PARK. I would have never had the confidence to do this, on a project this big, if I had not pulled cinematography duties on Sub Rosa Extreme's THE UNDERTOW.
But this is not just about the education I received making all these Extreme movies. As an "artist" (I'm not yet good enough to remove the quotes around the word) I genuinely enjoy making different movies all the time. I like nasty exploitation movies, horror movies, abstract experimental films, dramas... As a film fan, I like ALL of these genres, so I count myself lucky to have dabbled in all of them a bit as a writer, producer, or director.
When you make different kinds of movies all the time, there is an unavoidable negative factor: Trying new things is risky and it almost always generates flaws.
Directors who make the same movie over and over get the chance to fine tune the same film by making it ten times. While I would like to someday be considered a good director, I'm not interested in achieving this by putting my movie production activities on repeat.
This is how I put it when Red Scream asked me about making movies that were drastically different from one another. I said I'd be a better filmmaker if I made the same movie over and over... But I'd be VERY bored. I'd rather be a flawed filmmaker who's always trying new things. Risk will always bring some failure. But risk is fun.
So check out the SUB ROSA EXTREME DVD's, available through SRS Cinema. All DVD's are available at Amazon.com. Chances are, you'll love one or two of them and hate one or two of them. Here's the rundown, so you know what to expect:
BIZARRE LUST OF A SEXUAL DEVIANT (due out on DVD this fall)
Directed by Zert Sineca. Starring Jason Christ, Lisa Morrison, and Emily Haack. The downward spiral story of a man being destroyed by his "unique" sexual desires. Sleazy exploitation with equal doses of dark character study and freaky fetish content that your grandmother won't approve of... unless she's hip to the freaky stuff... you never know!
KILLERS BY NATURE (due out on DVD this fall)
Directed by Eric Spudic. Starring Spudic, Jason Contini, and William Clifton. The story of two young lads who discover they have a taste for murder, so they set out to kill all of their old high school bullies. This is 80's action film and 80's coming-of-age film mixed in a blender with rock music that sounds like it's from the 80's. (No budget was added to this blender.)
BUZZ SAW (2005)
Directed by Robin Garrels. Starring Stephen J. Heffernan and Jason Allen Wolfe. The story of an apartment building maintenance staff who find themselves suddenly dealing with four floors of mayhem and murder. It's David Lynch meets THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. In an unprecedented, historical change of pace for indie film, BUZZ SAW features drug dealers who are annoying and blue collar maintenance men who are cool.
INBRED REDNECK ALIEN ABDUCTION (2004)
Directed by and starring Patrick Voss. Extremely corny and relentlessly raunchy comedy about Arkansas hicks finding adventure and love in outer space. Those of you who think you'll hate this movie WILL hate it. Those of you who think it would be fun to get drunk while watching this movie are absolutely right.
CHINA WHITE SERPENTINE (2003)
Directed by Robin Garrels and me. Starring DJ Vivona, Eli DeGeer, and Jason Allen Wolfe. This one is about a mysterious seductress who lures young addicts into her lair and uses them as sex slaves and drug-running puppets... until two of these youngsters strike up a steamy love affair and plot against their evil puppeteer. A trippy, experimental, and dramatic horror flick. Fantastic performances and a unique visual style make this movie stand out for me. This is a love story that ends with a chainsaw ripping open someone's crotch... just like ALL love stories should end.
THE UNDERTOW (2003)
Directed by Jeremy Wallace. Starring Jason Christ, Robin Garrels, Chris Grega, and Emily Haack. Visitors to a very unfriendly hick town find themselves on the run from the town's outsider-deterrent: a hulking madman who has a habit of obliterating the people he comes in contact with. Grim, gory horror with a wonderful 80's camp/slasher vibe, like in THE BURNING and FRIDAY THE 13TH. NOT heavy on character development... all the characters act the same way... but they all die differently!
Directed by John Specht. Starring Jonas Moses, Paul Wendell, Bryan Lane, and Daniel Byington. The story of an angel who descends to Earth to experience human life, only to fall right into the middle of drug deals, pornography, and murder. Violent, trippy, and very interesting flick. Only Specht could create a movie that mixes angels and pornography so tastefully!
LAST HOUSE ON HELL STREET (2002)
Directed by John Specht and Robin Garrels. Starring Leah Schumacher. The story of two passionate lovers who stumble across an evil house that makes the man do evil things to his innocent lady. Horror movie in the style of silent German expressionistic cinema (so absolutely no Americans liked this movie).
Directed by John Specht. Starring Robin Garrels and Chris Grega. The story of a woman who is trying to sort out her violent past... but her memories are mixed with nightmarish hallucinations. Crazy horror trip with a good story and terrific performances. Shot almost entirely in an abandoned office building in downtown St. Louis.... No budget for locations? Try trespassing!
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE (2002)
Directed by Jeremy Wallace. Starring DJ Vivona, Chris Belt, and Jason Christ. The madcap tale of a boy emotionally scarred on Christmas... so, of course, he grows up to become a maniacal killer. Goofy slasher spoof with plenty of sex jokes and mentally impoverished characters. Contains one of the most bizarre sex scenes (involving a watermelon piņata, of all things) I've ever seen in a movie. The killer's "costume" is an eye patch... because that is all our wardrobe budget could afford.
I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE (2002)
Directed by me. Starring Emily Haack. A woman used, abused, and pushed to the edge finally snaps and unleashes a wall of violence on those who've wronged her. Our most infamous of the Extreme movies. We made this one for French investors who wanted the movie to be as nasty as possible. Grating, unsettling exploitation movie with nonstop sex, nudity, violence ...and, uh, "interesting" use of a broom handle. This movie has generated the most scathing, hateful, bad reviews - and also the most glowing fan mail - of any movie I've ever been part of. It is also the most financially successful movie of my career so far... which means a whole lot of you sick-o's have already purchased this one.
And here are the movies we made for ourselves, the WICKED PIXEL CINEMA movies:
THE SEVERED HEAD NETWORK (2000)
Not a feature. This is a compilation of experimental short films, including Jason Christ's acclaimed music film, CURVEBALL: PILE OF JUNK. A cool DVD available through SRS Cinema.
Directed by me. Starring Emily Haack and Tommy Biondo. A serial killer and rapist keeps a scrapbook of his atrocities, forcing his victims to personally detail their ordeals in its pages... but Clara, his most recent abductee, learns to use the scrapbook as a mode of communication (and manipulation) with her captor. Gut wrenching rape-revenge drama. The most critically acclaimed movie of my career, but very difficult to watch due to the realistic sexual violence. Special Collector's Edition DVD due out this fall from Image Entertainment.
ICE FROM THE SUN (1999)
Directed by me. Starring Ramona Midgett, DJ Vivona, Jason Christ, and Tommy Biondo. The Presence, an evil being who is enemy to both the Angels and the Devils, exists in an alternate dimension where he pulls in mortals from Earth to torture and eventually kill. The Angels and Devils team up to send an assassin into this dimension to terminate The Presence. Experimental dark fantasy horror film. Before DEADWOOD PARK, this film was the most logistically complex thing we ever pulled off. Special Collector's Edition Two Disc DVD due out this fall from Image Entertainment. You can pre-order this at Amazon.com right now.
SAVAGE HARVEST (1995)
Directed by me (trying to be Sam Raimi). Starring Lisa Morrison, Ramona Midgett, William Clifton, and DJ Vivona. The story of a cursed land and how, one by one, its inhabitants become demonically possessed and hell-bent on slaughter. Technically, this was produced before Wicked Pixel Cinema was formed. Straightforward horror flick full of gory effects. Not a well-written movie... but a fun splatter-fest for fans of 80's style horror. Special Collector's Edition DVD due out this fall from Image Entertainment.
DEADWOOD PARK (directed by me) and SAVAGE HARVEST 2: OCTOBER BLOOD (directed by Jason Christ) are currently in post-production.
As you can see, my tastes lean toward the horror genre. Still, every opportunity I've had to produce a movie has been embraced as a chance to try something different. Most indie filmmakers don't have this many opportunities come their way. Yes, I consider my body of work to be, primarily, a collection of flawed experiments. But I'm still pretty damn lucky to have this "Cinema Sampler" of a career. Best of all, it's still going.
I'm eager to see what new experiments my future holds.
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