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Cook Them, Eat Them, Shit Them Out
Setting the Film World on Fire with "Fright Flick" Director Israel Luna
Some directors hate dealing with cast and crew so much that they stick to cartooning (see: Trey Parker and Matt Stone). Some keep on-set diaries of their agonizing time with them so that, ten or twenty years on, they can reveal all the lurid details in a tell-all autobiography (see: Roman by Polanski). Still others imagine their production events spiraling even further out of control, to the point of Surrealist absurdity (Fellini's 8 1/2).
Israel Luna (writer/director of Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives) makes a movie in which he vicariously chops them all to bits and drives sharp instruments through their flesh, satirizing their inanity before splattering their blood all over the screen. Mr. Luna discusses the gory facts about low-budget film production, and the cinematic revenge he had to wreak on the stars of his first major feature, for the Breaking Glass Pictures release Fright Flick (available now on DVD).
It seems like only a couple of months ago your film Ticked-off Trannies With Knives was enjoying both acclaim and controversy, making the rounds at Tribeca, and then being promoted by its domestic distributor Breaking Glass Pictures and by you. So when did you find the time to make Fright Flick? Obviously 2010 has been a busy year for you.
Israel Luna: Yes, 2010 was probably the biggest year I've had as a filmmaker so far! I shot Fright Flick in '08. It had a pretty good festival run, winning a few awards along the way, but it wasn't until TOTWK that people began asking about Fright Flick. I'm glad it's getting its due now! Some people are even blogging that it's a better movie than TOTWK. Awesome!
It's widely known that William Friedkin's film adaptation of The Exorcist was a picture that inspired you to become a filmmaker, but how did you go about getting started? Did you go the film school route or was yours a less average route?
IL: My inspiration being The Exorcist is widely known!? Really? Wow! Ha! Ha! When getting started I joined the cable access station here in Dallas, TX. It was called DCTV, then iMedia. I did a little soap opera called Boobs, Boys & High Heels. I shot 2 episodes then moved on to my first full-length film. It was a horror movie called Is Anybody There? I sold it and made a nice profit and that's when I thought, "You know...maybe I'm not so bad at this."
I haven't had any school, any classes. Nothing. Just experience. As they say, "Experience is the best teacher." It's cliche but true.
Did you have any mentors when you were getting started? If so, what did they impart upon you that has carried over into your own filmmaking experiences?
IL: There's been one guy who helped me out from the beginning. His name is Jose Luis Partida. He's a producer for bigger budget films. He and I met through an industry mixer and we've been friends ever since. He took me to these Latino filmmaking conferences in LA, brought me on set on a few large productions and introduced me to lots of good people. He's also been associate producer for a few of my projects. He's like familia to me.
You've made one divisive revenge comedy about transsexuals, one seemingly personal drama about small town outcasts, and one raucous horror satire featuring one of the most flamboyant gay characters this side of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. What is your relationship with the gay community at large and how do you feel your films figure into that niche?
IL: HA! HA! Excellent question! As far as I know I'm good with my relationship with the gay community. I have tremendous support in our "gayborhood." One guy came up to me at our last DVD release party and said that he was so grateful that I'm putting Dallas back on the map with filmmaking and the best part was that I was gay! You can't please everyone but the majority of people agree with my message in my films.
As far as my niche figuring into gay films, I feel I've done the right mix of horror and gay. Horror listed first. TOTWK didn't only show at LGBT fests. It showed at horror festivals as well and I take that as a huge compliment. It's about time we have a genre with gay elements but crosses over into the mainstream audience without being threatening or scary to the straight audience...it's just entertaining.
Do you feel you have any responsibility to the New Queer Cinema? Or are you just out to make movies, gay, straight or otherwise?
IL: One of the first things I learned as a filmmaker was "write what you know." I'm gay and my first love is horror, so no matter what I try to do, those elements are going to show through and I'm glad they do! They're me. I'm loving that mix. I like not knowing if a movie is gay or straight or otherwise. Billy Elliott. Is it a gay movie? The Color Purple. Gay movie? Showgirls? Bad example. That one's totally made for gay men.
All I can do is do my thing and wait and see if they consider it New Queer Cinema. I love the term so if they say my movies are...then sweet!
IL: Fright Flick was written because of my experience making my previous movie The Deadbeat Club. I wanted to kill most of my cast and crew. Seriously. I wanted to slaughter them piece by piece, cook them, eat them, shit them out, set that shit on fire 'til it was a pile of ashes then pour acid on their ashes.
Of course, I couldn't actually do that so I did the next best thing: I wrote them into my script, named them their real names and killed them off in ways I wanted to really kill them. The best part was inviting all of them to the first screening. It's been very therapeutic!
After the cult success of Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives has it been easier to find financing or has the battle stayed the same? Do you generally work with a budget in the same price range?
IL: Oh, my God! Thank you for asking that question. The answer is no. It's not been easier to get financing. One reviewer had mentioned that I kept my budget impressively low by only spending $300,000 on TOTWK. I read that and thought, "What!? I wish! We spent $50,000!" I keep my budgets very low because I do all of my own post-production. I edit, do color correction, score them, everything. I can't afford to pay someone to do that for me so I taught myself.
My next one will be a slightly larger budget. $150,000. It's a zombie movie where the only survivors are gay people and church people. I'm looking forward to shooting that one! I'm hoping that an investor will bite. I've been kind to the ones who've funded my previous ones so here's to the next one(s)!
If someone gave you $10 million and said you had total carte blanche to make whatever kind of movie you saw fit to, what do you think you would do? Would the subject matter remain typical of your canon of work so far or would you do something else given the promise of enhanced production values?
IL: Okay, let me just say again...I've done lots of interviews but you're asking some fresh, new questions that are so much fun to answer. Okay, now that that's out of the way: if someone offered me $10 million, I'd use that and make 10 one-million dollar movies. The production value would be sleeker but I'd be making the same type of movies. Fun, grindhouse, crazy, off-the-wall movies.
I wrote this script years ago called HorrorWorld which is Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory meets Scream. So that would probably be the first one I'd do. I'd also do a tranny version of Precious. Haha, just kidding. Wait...maybe I'm not.
Fright Flick was shot on a video format if I'm not mistaken. Is this something you have always utilized throughout your career, or something you had to use for budgetary reasons? Do you feel like films are still films when you are shooting on a format other than celluloid?
IL: You're right. It's been for budgeting reasons but it's easier to work with, too! And cameras nowadays are looking so darn close to film. In a way it looks crisper and clearer than film so you have to dirty it up a bit.
Look at Run, Lola, Run. It incorporated digital video into the film. 28 Days Later was shot on digital video and was then transferred to film. In the end it comes down to story. I honestly don't think people will say they don't like a film 'cause it was shot on video or vice-versa. People are going to love or hate a movie because of the content and story.
What are you looking forward to most of all as a filmmaker entering the second decade of the New Millennium?
IL: I'm looking forward to making more movies that break that wall of political correctness and cause dialogue. I wanna bring back the types of movies that scare you, shock you and make you laugh all at the same time. I have no clue what the next 10 years will bring, but I'm looking forward to them.
Mel Gibson. Fuck him, kill him or ostracize him from Hollywood for the rest of eternity? You choose.
IL: Mel Gibson rocks! He's a nut, but he rocks. Would I wanna be his friend? Not so much, but he's an excellent director (see: Apocalypto) and he's the life of the party when given alcohol. Just don't be gay or a Jew...or a woman.
Fill in the blank. If I were to make a Hollywood action movie____________
IL: I'd call it The Revenge of the Cannibal Cum-Guzzling Gutter Sluts From Hell - Part 2: Jizz Time It's Personal.