Hitting the festival circuit right now is the highly anticipated movie Distortion from Chicago director Richard Diaz. The movie stars Brenden Patrick Hill, Lauren Elaine, Alan J. Campbell, Jeff Jamerson, Shon Lange, Jennifer Dymit, and Deneen Melody.
George is a video editor that starts to get visions through his TV of people getting murdered by a mysterious killer. As the visions become clearer and more intense he seeks help from his friend Jay and girlfriend Danielle and Detective Sam Blaine. The killer is not just any killer but one that has returned to murder people who will one day become soldiers in the war against good and evil. But he must kill them before they become aware. George has become aware early and is the only one that can stop him. Written by Richard Diaz
I had a chance these past couple weeks to interview both Richard Diaz and Deneen Melody. Here is what they had to say, not only about Distortion, but other stuff they are working on:
R.D. - Distortion is your first horror film. What was it like to transition from other genres to the horror genre?
Richard - As a film buff I love all kinds of movies but I so love the horror genre so it was a natural fit for me. I do though love how horror can incorporate every other type of film. A horror film can have elements of drama, comedy, science fiction, action. That is what is so great about them and why I gravitate towards it. I don't know if I would ever make a straight on drama but I like putting drama into a horror or action film. I'm able to go into emotional areas with the characters just like I would with a straight drama but then two seconds later I'm squashing someone's head into a wall. I love it!
R.D. - Your previous film Drop Off was nearly twelve years ago. What was the cause for taking such a long delay between films?
Richard - Drop Off was an emotionally draining project. It was supposed to be what Distortion eventually became which was my first feature film. Unfortunately it became nothing more than a very expensive promotional trailer. A complicated situation. Friendships ended and I felt the need to step away for awhile. Not a bad thing because I was young and right out of film school plus I needed to live life a little. After two years I was ready to get back in and dedicate my life to what I wanted to do. I got involved with so many projects and started working as a professional editor and videographer. The only thing was times had changed a bit. When I made Drop Off it was shot on 16mm as everything was still analog and film based. Then when I got back in the digital revolution had happened so I had to teach myself everything. Luckily the concepts never change just the tools so I was in good shape that way. But teaching yourself a digital editing program from scratch (in my case Final Cut Pro) is quite an experience. All those years of working on projects both creative and work related helped me greatly because I was able to put everything I knew into Distortion. So while there was a huge break between the two projects from a directing standpoint I was extremely busy doing everything else. Possibly too much but I always like to be busy.
R.D. - As a fan of horror, I have to ask this question. What was it like working with Reggie Bannister on Drop Off?
Richard - It was as cool as you'd think it would be. I was at a Fangoria convention and I knew that Reggie was going to be in Chicago for awhile recording his album so I wanted to ask him to play a cameo. With determination and complete nervousness I approached him and asked if he would be interested. He looked at me for a second and then gave me his number where he was staying. We talked a few times and then I sent him the script. He really dug it so he agreed and it was so incredible. Here is someone I am such a big fan of and they're in my film. I'm sure he doesn't know how much he helped me but he did. He gave me the confidence to think that maybe I was in fact on the right path in life. Something I am still thankful for.
R.D. - In Distortion, you also take a stab at acting. What was that experience like? Is that something you might consider doing again in the future?
Richard - Some may not refer to it as acting as much as just hamming it up. The one bit I did in Distortion was more of a necessity. For some reason I had never shot a newscast which plays during one scene. So the week I needed to mail out the film for submission to the Cannes Film Festival I realized I still had that missing. Originally I wanted an actor for that but I didn't have time so I threw up a green screen and shot myself. I did want to do a cameo in the film but I figured it would be more of an Alfred Hitchcock thing where I would walk by or something. But this worked out ok. I had a lot of fun doing it even though it was just me in my living room. Actually I have always loved acting. The funny thing is I used to get a lot of really good feedback from acting teachers back in college including one that insisted I become an actor. But it just wasn't my passion. I always looked at it as a way to know what it's like to be an actor because I felt it would make me a better director to know what they are going through. What they might need to get to a certain place emotionally for a scene. I think it's important for a director to know that. To know what it's like to be in front of the camera and not just behind it. As far as more of it goes I've done some small acting here and there but I would love to try doing an actual acting role. I do enjoy it. There is a film this summer that I might be playing a supporting role in. Can't say much about it at this point but we'll see. That would be fun because it would only be me acting and not me doing a million other things on a production and then jumping in and doing a quick cameo. I'll actually only be acting which would be so great.
R.D. - Is Distortion just a random horror movie, or did you have some sort of inspiration for the film? What made you decide to make a horror film in the first place? When did you begin to enjoy horror movies?
Richard - I have loved horror films since ... well, as long as I can remember. The great thing about them, especially from a filmmaking standpoint, is that most of them are made with little money and independently so learning about how a lot of them were made was a huge influence on me. Directors like George A. Romero, Roger Corman, Don Coscarelli, William Lustig, Larry Cohen are just some of the few that really taught me about just going out and making your movie no matter what.
A few years ago I was starting to feel discouraged because I felt like I was doing everything but the one thing that I really wanted which was directing. I knew no one was going to give me a shot so I needed to create my own opportunity which meant I needed to make a film. At first I thought about making an action film sort of repeating what I was going to do with Drop Off but the story I came up with was way too complicated to do for so little money. Still dig the idea though which was sort of a modern take on Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. I put that one on the back burner and tried to come up with another idea. A friend of mine said to me that he knew I could do action but he really wanted me to do a horror film since he knew how much I love the genre. He was right. I needed to do what I loved. Slight problem - I didn't have a story. It was hard because normally you have your story that you turn into a script that you turn into a movie. I was sort of reversed. I wanted to make a movie but didn't have an idea. At first I came up with an idea that was cool and started writing it. I got about 52 pages in and realized I had no where to go. That was more of a slasher film but outside of the set up it wasn't overly different than what had already been done before plus done a lot better than anything I could come up with so I walked away from it. However there was a nugget of an idea from it that stayed with me. Then a few months later out of the blue I was thinking about that little idea and in one of those magical creative moments an entire story unfolded in my head and that was the basis for what Distortion became. I decided to not push it so I lived with it for awhile and found I was thinking about it all the time. So when I finally sat down to write it I knew I was ready.
All those years of working on friend's projects and the work videos I was doing really informed me on what I needed money for and what I didn't. So it was easy for me to put into the script what I knew I could do and what I had access to. Although I did write a few things that I had no clue how I was going to do them. But if you can't push yourself then what's the point? I knew since I couldn't pay the actors that I needed to schedule a lot of the shooting around their work schedules. It was decided early on to not have a crew because I knew I couldn't schedule actors and a crew. The film never would have gotten made. So instead I took the Robert Rodriguez route like he did with El Mariachi and made the film on my own with no crew. The funny thing is that most of the work shoots that I do there are maybe two of you doing them so it wasn't really that much of a stretch to what I was already doing. I'd show up with my camera, light kit, microphone and got to work. It was challenging sometimes but overall it was fairly easy since I knew what I wanted and didn't have to tell five other people. I just did it.
Stylistically while there are handheld shots I was aiming for an older style. Not the current shaky cam type of way. I aimed it more after John Carpenter in a lot of ways. Although if I listed every filmmaker that I drew inspiration from I'd be listing a hundred names. I will say though that I shot it in an older way but I edited the film like I was making a bigger film. I shot a lot of coverage so I was able to give the film an energy that I think helps make it feel like a bigger film. I made the joke to a friend that I shot the film like David Lean but edited it like I was making The Dark Knight. Not to compare it to such a talented director and to such a great film. Just as examples. I do think though it's one of the things that might make it stand out a bit too.
R.D. - Right now Distortion is hitting the festival Circuit. When do you think it will be available for everyone else to watch?
Richard - I hope soon. Right now I'm submitting it to the bigger festivals which have some strict rules as far as where the film has or has not been shown. Once I'm through this I will be getting it out to as many places as I can. You don't make a film for you to watch in your living room. You make a film so people can see it. Although I admit I am nervous. The film has gotten to the point where it is no longer mine and I just have to put it out there for everyone to see. Both good and bad. You hope at least most people enjoy your film but you never really know. I just hope when people see it that they find it entertaining and that it inspires others to go make their film. Even if someone doesn't like the movie I want them to know that they don't need a lot of money or even a lot of people to do it. Just go out and make your movie. If that happens then I will be really happy.
R.D. - I know you are super busy with all the Distortion stuff right now, but what does the future hold for you in directing and acting? I sure hope it is more horror films.
Richard - Absolutely more horror films. I have one script idea for a werewolf film that I would really like to make but it would need a pretty decent budget. My friend Kirk Sanders and I are trying to get an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth made. We wrote this amazing script and made a really incredible promotional trailer that Kirk directed (which you can see here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPvUXBeHkbk) so hopefully that will happen soon. Just needs to be done the right way and we don't want to settle on that one. I also wrote an action screenplay called Another Sunrise which might be my favorite thing I've written but that would also require a decent budget.
In the immediate future I am making another horror film called Killer Talk about a late night talk radio host that does this show on horror films but becomes obsessed with this serial killer in the news. He has this fan fascination and goes so far as to try and track the killer down. He discovers that real life horror is a far cry from fictional horror. I'm trying to get that one made this summer. It'll be made the same way as Distortion with very little money and once again no crew. Only instead of years I want to make this film very quickly. Go off of gut instinct with a lot of things.
Beyond that I guess it depends on what happens with Distortion. If it opens up the right doors I am ready to walk through them. I've wanted to be a filmmaker since I was a kid and it has taken me a long time to get here. There is no turning back now. I never set a fall back situation for myself because I needed to keep going at it. Whatever the future holds for me I know I will keep on going after my dream no matter what.
R.D. - Last, but not least, what is your favorite horror film of all time? Don’t say Distortion, haha.
Richard - Distort ... er ... um ... Actually I go back and forth between The Exorcist and Dawn Of The Dead. I think it depends on which one I watched last. The Exorcist still gets under my skin no matter how many times I see it. Plus the fact that it is so serious makes it more disturbing. But my love for Dawn Of The Dead knows no bounds. It is such an incredible film and George Romero is one of my idols. Today I am going with Dawn Of The Dead because it is just such a masterpiece.
Thanks for the interview Richard. I look forward to Distortion. These interviews are much longer than I remember, so I am going to have to make a second post with the interview from Deneen and I will also have some stills with it. So keep reading if you would like to see more.