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An Old Gay Italian Man Slapped Me With A Candy Bar...Or How To Make A Microbudget Horror-Drama
AN INTERVIEW WITH "HEMO" DIRECTOR BOB FREVILLE
Former-Kotori Associate Editor Bob Freville has been busy building a reel throughout his tenure at the magazine. When he wasn’t handing in music reviews dripping with sarcasm or penning long-winded features about beer pong and naked wizards, Bob was out writing, directing, producing and acting in movies. He was even a production assistant on some low-budget action movie that nobody ever heard of. “It was part of a crash course in digital filmmaking,” he explained. “But it was a scam. I paid cash to take the class and work on the film and I was supposed to get a certificate saying I did this workshop but never did. They cut my scene from the film and never gave me any credit as a crew member. That was my first lesson in what the film industry is really all about.”
Freville may best be known as the sarcastic over-opinionated weirdo who wrote articles about sex toys, transvestites, psychotropic drugs and corrupt police officers, but for anyone who has visited Google Video in the past few years, he is the writer/director behind a short experimental mind-blower called “Of Bitches & Hounds,” a grainy nightmare portraiture of a pooch (played by a grown man on all fours) and a deranged domestic partner who keeps him smeared with lipstick and bleeding on enemas.
“That’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever done and very few people know about it,” mused Freville. “We made that movie over the course of several years, starting when I was twenty-one, and when it was done it was roundly rejected by every festival we sent it to. So we knew we did something right.” Freville laughs as only Freville can, a wet asthmatic cackle that descends into a teeth-chattering wheeze.
Bob is done with being a “quasi-full-time journalist” and is no longer making “short little digital skullfucks.” He has moved on to his first long feature film, a movie called “Hemo.” The “bloody horror-drama” concerns two young lovers on Long Island who happen to be addicted to blood and the downward spiral their lives take when they have to sacrifice their moral principles in the wake of a security system overhaul at their local blood bank.
Freville was recently over the house so I can proof-read his Kotori essay on New Media (ya know, the one with the Human Centipede diagram of people being sewn ass to mouth), so I sat his wily ass down and told him to spit some realness.
What were you thinking? [Straight-faced]
[Laughs] I was thinking, I want to make good old-fashioned romantic tragedy. And I want to make a vampire movie for people who don’t like vampire movies. I deliberately subverted everything the sub-genre asks for. There’s no garlic, no crosses, no God. The vampires of Hemo live in a secular universe. It’s not that they wouldn’t believe in God or hate God, they just aren’t aware of him. The idea was to have these two characters who live in a not-so-distant future where culture has been retarded or completely decimated and where there claustrophobic lifestyle leaves them unprepared to deal with the outside world. So, really, if they are indeed vampires, they are the most vulnerable vampires there ever was.
What’s with the patchy audio? There are sounds in this movie that make me want to gouge my eardrums out. You’ve got dialogue that not always but sometimes is so low that you needed to use subtitles. What made you think that using these subtitles would be acceptable to an audience?
Well, I can make all the excuses in the world for that. The fact is, we had a small crew and cheap equipment. I had a great prosumer HD camera, top of the line, but I had a shitty little accessory mic instead of a decent shotgun mic with condenser. So exterior scenes were a bitch to shoot and we did have to do a fair amount of ADR to get everything right. The problem here was that our star performer Steve Dash, who played Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2, was unavailable for ADR.
Was he out of the country or something?
He was shooting a movie in Yonkers, a “real” movie, and we couldn’t get in touch with him. The reason it worked out that way was because Steve did this movie for free. I coaxed him out of retirement before he got back into acting full-time and he shot three days on the flick. One of those was a personal favor because we needed to do pick-ups on an action-oriented sequence and he was the actor and the stunt coordinator.
The night we shot his monologue we were trying to beat the clock because the sun was going down and we only got two takes, both of which were obscured by traffic noise because it was an unlocked scene, there was no lock-up on the street, just wild sound. So when we got into editing we realized this was just horrendous, but we couldn’t get Steve back. So I told my editor, out of respect for Steve, I can’t dub in his lines with another actor’s voice. Let’s just go with subtitles.
But he speaks the same language as the other actors, so why subtitles for just him?
I thought about that and that is why we added subtitles to all but one of the secondary characters. The way I justified it was this--and I hope it helps people digest it--that Calvin and Felicia live such a cordoned off existence that they are not used to dealing with the outside world, so outsiders are like foreigners and it is as if they speak a different language. So their communication with each other is somewhat flawed. Hence Calvin taking the Neighbor (Dash)’s advice the wrong way. It makes sense to us. [Laughs] Microbudget movies demand that their creators find creative solutions to terrible problems like this one. We’re actually back in the editing bay now, tweaking some things before our world premiere. I’ve gotten complaints that the dialogue is so low and that then the audience is shocked out of their skulls by super-loud music cues. So we’re adjusting the levels and trying to spruce up the audio as much as possible.
You have an awesome soundtrack. How is that possible on a no-budget movie?
Well, thank you. But Hemo is NOT a no-budget movie. I spent what for me was a great deal of money. Thousands and thousands of dollars.
And it shows…
[Laughs] Stop flattering me.
Your female lead is incredible in this. What’s her deal? Why haven’t we seen her before?
Because she’s my discovery. I discovered her. [Laughs] No. Honestly, you probably have seen her and just haven’t made the connection yet. Pamela [Price] has done a lot of stuff. She was in a Red Bull promo, a Trojan condom commercial [directed by Ronni Raygun Thomas], a couple indie movies. She was in How I Got Lost with Aaron Stanford and she did this great ghost story called Dream House that was supposed to come out last year but the filmmakers obviously ran into a spot of bad luck with the distributor who was supposed to buy it up. This business is a shady and shifty beast. Imagine the first-time screenwriter who says, “Oh my God, I sold my script to Oliver Stone! I’ve arrived!” Then a year later his script has been shelved by Stone’s company. That’s gotta suck.
But yeah, Pam is great, she is really the spiritual anchor of the film. I think Kevin [Petroff, who plays “Calvin”] is the emotional anchor, but Pamela really fills the kick ass quotient. It’s her lines that will be the ones people memorize and put on bumber stickers and yearbooks and shit. She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s uber-fucking-talented. I hope I get to work with her again now that she’s based out of L.A. and I’m still a New York boy.
What are you working on next?
[Laughs] Oh c’mon, man. That’s soooo unoriginal! [More laughter] I’m working on selling Hemo’s domestic rights and hoping to partner with some sales reps overseas so we can negotiate the sale of the worldwide rights. That has to be goal number one before we do all kinds of other stuff. Of course there are many projects that my production company--Intrepid Aspirations--would like to produce, but many of them would call for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we need to build up a base of support before we can get to any of those.
I can tell you that I will be starring in a WLFK Production called The Red Headed Slut (shooting in October) and that I am prepping a 21st Century horror movie for later this year, which I am co-writing with Hemo editor James Neyman, and which I will be directing. It’s a crazy balls-out horror-suspense movie that falls somewhere between Brainscan and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It’s gonna be a slow burn suspense movie with lots of psychedelic drugs and strange fetishistic death scenes which will lead to a massive grue-soaked bug fuck finale that will rival anything we’ve ever done before. Other than that we’re just lining things up and letting evolution takes its course. We’ve got several scripts in various stages of development, some in the twenty thousand range, some in the hundred thousand range and at least one in the million dollar range. We’ll see where the next year takes us.
You have some far-out stuff in this, a beheading, a disembowelment, a retarded kid getting assaulted, people sucking blood through straws and moaning like they’re flicking the bean. What’s this all about?
I think that’s the question, really. I mean, will people embrace a movie that walks a very, very thin line between art film and horror movie. Ya know, I had one reviewer who said, “Nothing much happens. They just walk around and stare at the walls of their apartment.” But he also said, “All that really happens is some sex and the occasional murder.” And I thought that was funny because either he is contradicting himself or he takes murder very lightly.
So I don’t know, I feel like we gave it our all and I really packed it with as much stuff as possible for a movie of its size. I don’t think my intention with this was to make shock cinema, it was always supposed to be this grungy little love story with lots of blood. And I feel that the death scenes were well-executed, especially given the budgetary constraints and scheduling issues. I think that our goal from day one was to make the key murder scenes count, to make the audience feel bad that the people were dying. It’s not one of those movies where you applaud when someone gets killed. That’s another movie.
How does the content materialize?
I have sex once, maybe twice a year as a means of keeping the creativity flowing. It's no secret that sex makes you stupid. Just videotape yourself after you cum and you'll see what I mean. You're reduced to a mental midget, all gaga, after you squirt, and especially for someone like me, a person with an addictive personality, relationships are artistic poison because I invest all of myself in that other person. Like tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole. So there is definitely something to Stephen Dorff's No Sex Rule in John Waters' Cecil B. Demented.
It's also why Morrisey has had such artistic longevity and why Brandon Fehr was a terrifically soulful actor before Hollywood chewed him up and spit him out of the New Brat Pack. Don't get me wrong, I love fucking. But I'm like a retard or an orangutan with it. So less pussy means more prolifica, more focus.
Why Hemo? How did it come about?
I used to entertain this teenage couple. The girl used to go out with the drummer from my old band Electric Crabcake. And I always wanted to fuck her. Plus she seemed like a really cool chick. In fact she was a real bitch, but whatevs. So her and her new boyfriend, this pasty pale celery stalk druggie kid would come over and hang out on my couch and we'd have a couple beers and talk about music and movies.
They worked, if you can call it that, on this abandoned movie project I had been involved with. But the thing that snapped was, they would just get strung out on my couch, eating Fentanyl patches and just suck on each other. I mean, this girl would bend down and give this kid hickeys on his hip bone which jutted out of his girl pants because he was one of those super-skinny emo kids. Talkin just blatant appalling PDA. One night they were sucking until their lips bled and I just said, "You guys should play vampires. We should do a vampire movie." And the light bulb went off.
At that point I saw this even more extreme vision of this weird little couple not even talking, just sucking on things and like extracting blood from cows and shit like that. That's an element I would love to add back in if we ever have a budget to make a bigger remake of Hemo.
Did you think this would sell? Did you see it as a continuation of the success that True Blood and Twilight was enjoying?
Twilight was what we were railing against. It was an answer to that kind of watered-down melodramatic shit. The whole idea was to make a modern vampire movie where the characters were like outlaw vagabonds who would eat and drink anything and spit blood in the face of pussies like Robert Pattison's character. True Blood aired on HBO the first week production started and I was so backwards-thinking at the time that, instead of realizing we could ride the coattails of that success, I was just pissed off that someone else was trying to reinvent the mythology. So I made a deliberate attempt to avoid the show. I didn't end up seeing any of it until we were about halfway done with shooting Hemo.
I don't necessarily think those movies and their pop phenomenon will really effect us one way or the other. I could only help, but the fact is that Hemo is very far removed from something so mainstream like that. I mean, our film is a bloody like horror-art film. It shares more in common with like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Bergman's Hour of the Wolf than it does with any of the current crop of horror movies. It's not really a vampire flick, it's a domestic drama filtered through that mythos.
Hemo was special from day one. I knew that when I replaced the original couple who the film was inspired by. These were junkie kids who would never get around to reading the script or memorizing lines and they were just reckless and unreliable. They had kind of ruined my previous film. But when they read a MySpace post that said I was seeking scene kids for their roles they were heartbroken and totally terrorized me at my day job.
Your day job? What did you do?
I was the coolest manager to ever run a branch of Dollar Tree, America's premiere dollar variety store. We'd have silly string fights and simulate blowjobs for the surveillane cameras to see. I used to brow beat this slow kid who would creep out the cashiers and always break shit "accidentally." Any time he didn't do what I told him to do or broke something I'd charge him "asshole tax." And he'd religiously hand over a piece of his pay check since he was always fucking up on the job. Come to think of it, that helped pay for our weekend shoots.
Is that how you financed the film? By working retail?
Yes. Absolutely. This was also when one of my customers, some lecherous old Italian man, started stalking me. He would bring me lasagna from his restaurant and buy me exotic face lotions from France. The production got a big shot in the arm from Armando or "Vinny," as he insisted I call him. Vinny would give me all these fancy man cosmetics and I'd return them to the mall for cash to put into the budget. He was just a lonely old fag, very nice dude right off the boat from Naples. It was never about sex, just companionship. He knew I was straight because he saw me flirting with young female employees all the time. But he did say how beautiful he thought I was. Which was nice because I had just come out of a painful break-up.
Our meetings consisted of eating Rolletini and watching Fellini. 8 1/2, which kind of foreshadowed some of the struggles I went through with Hemo, and Amarcord which I walked out of because I just couldn't handle the imagery. But one time Vinny smacked me in the face and that's when he stopped being an investor. It was so surreal to be bitch slapped at one's place of work with a candy bar that I didn't even react. But I avoided him after that. Apparently I said something fresh and he wanted to scold me for being a naughty little dutch boy. But his playfulness went too far. At least by that point we had the money that I thought we needed for the weekend shoots.
What can you tell us about the ethnicity of the stars?
It's very much a melting pot, a multi-national production. You have a Asian-Jewish leading lady, a self-proclaimed "Jappy Jap," a Russian leading man, a horror legend who, despite his Polish heritage, insists on playing guido, then there's me. And I'm French, German, English and Orange Irish. So it's a mixed bag, man. And I like it that way. That's the New York Way.
What I like most about our film is the lack of profiling. Pamela's being Asian is never referenced, just like the whole vampirism thing is never mentioned. Because why? Because it wasn't necessary to telling a human story about human beings. Where their people came from is incidental. They are lost boys, throwaway children, wards of the state who escaped from the grid.
Were there things that you wanted to do that didn't come out the way you wanted? Is this the film you intended to make?
That's hard to say because your script always differs from your rough cut and your rough cut almost always differs completely from the finished product. I'd say that the overall picture is exactly what I intended, but thanks to a superb editor James Neyman, some very generous help from my second unit--Jake McGee, Bryan Fasig and Connie Bain, the film is even better and more stylistically-unique than I set out for it to be. It really looks like we had more money than we did, even if some of the sound issues could only be resolved so much. I'd say the sound is the only iffy quality about the flick, otherwise I'm 100% happy with the film we made. And it's ironic that I'm bitching about the sound because, at the same time, we have a killer soundtrack from Silber Records and Jamendo.
There were other sequences planned, elaborate location-specific things that would have explained some stuff better and loaned some additional pathos, but suffice it to say that it's hard to find a proper go-go dancing joint that will allow you to spill buckets of blood on their stripper stages or to get a grown ass black man to get his neck eaten out in a dark alley. You can't really post those as personals on Craigslist and expect a hearty response. You'd have better luck with an ad about felching.
But I think it's testament to the structure and style and SUBSTANCE of Hemo that those sequences don't truly feel missing. Probably the less you know of their origins or how they pay for their day to day existence the better. It ups the mystique quotient, which I like. For fans of David Lynch and artists of his ilk who don't like their flicks tied up neatly in a little pink bow this is your movie. There's plenty of mystery to its essence, plenty of room for you to live in this world with them.
Are you catering to that crowd?
Yes and no. I mean there's so much here for such a small movie. You've got the creepy Ring Around The Rosie theme and the blood and guts--and I do mean guts---for the horror set. And you've got the tits and ass for the exploitation-sex comedy camp. But you've also got this beauty and purity where the film sort of dive bombs into tone poem, and that will certainly appeal to art film audiences. That's where we've either succeeded or failed, by packing the film out with something for many disaparate tastes. It's definitely multi-genre-ish. I hope to be able to always do that. Every film I have written has been very multi-faceted and I'm not a snob. I love Michael Bay movies as much as Michael Haneke movies and I love all cinema unless it sucks.
I'll watch Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder and Miike's Dead or Alive tonight and then tomorrow I'm geekin' on some Cloverfield and the Manchurian Candidate remake, which was awesome by the way; Easily the best political thriller since Depp did Nick of Time with Walken and Dutton. Like Choptop from TCM2, with his Iron Butterfly and his golden oldies--When it comes to cinema, "movies are my liiiiife."
For Trailers & Interviews For and About "Hemo" Visit: www.youtube.com/hemoflick
For more information on Intrepid Aspirations or for Screeners of the Movie: www.myspace.com/hemoflick