I’m happy to announce my first official credit on my IMDB.com page.
Sidney Poitier, the deeply beloved trailblazing Academy Award-winning actor, director, political activist, and ambassador, passed away on January 7th. Poitier was one of the most iconic film talents and American cultural influences in the second part of the twentieth century. His remarkable career spanned over seven decades.
Before Poitier graced the silver screen, he began acting on the stage with the American Negro Theatre. Through the American Negro Theatre, he landed the lead role in a Broadway production of Lysistrata. Despite the failure of Lysistrata, he continued to pursue theatre, co-founding the Committee for the Negro in the Arts in 1947.
Making the jump from stage to film, Poitier gained his first major film role in the controversial 1950 racially-charged drama No Way Out. Poitier, as Dr. Luther Brooks, the first black doctor of the hospital, assigned to treat two injured white robbery suspects and racist brothers. This role launched Poitier’s film career, leading to other notable roles in Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun, and Paris Blues.
1963’s Lilies in the Field starred Poitier as a traveling jack-of-all-trades veteran who helps German nuns in Arizona build a chapel in the desert. This role led Poitier to become the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. As dear friend, fellow actor, and civil rights advocate Harry Belafonte recalled in the Netflix documentary, They’ve Gotta Have Us, “With humor, I observed that achievement and felt sorry for my friend. He had a terrible task of having to maintain some sense of dignity and individuality, yet the system didn’t give him much space in which to wiggle.”
In the 1960s Poitier received criticism for his roles as the over-idealized African American, despite being the only major Black actor to cast in the leading roles of American films. Feeling conflicted about this issue, Poitier wanted diverse roles but felt an obligation for his characters to challenge old stereotypes.
1967 was the year of Poitier, with the release of three monumental films starring Poitier: To Sir with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Each film dealt with race relations including generational racism, systemic racism, and interracial love. These films have become three of Poitier’s most notable films, with In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Going behind the camera as a director, in 1972, Poitier directed and co-starred with Belafonteand Ruby Dee in Buck and the Preacher. Taking a notable perspective on the classic western, Buck and the Preacher follows two vastly different men, wagon master Buck (Poitier) and con-artist Preacher (Belafonte) who join forces to stop bounty hunters from kidnapping freed slaves and forcing them back to the South. This film later became a significant film in the Black western genre, following earlier Black westerns such as The Bull Dodger, Harlem on the Prairie, Harlem Rides to the Range, and Two-Gun Man from Harlem.
Throughout his career, Poitier strongly advocated for civil rights. Poitier was an early supporter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose first president was Dr. Martin King Jr. In 1963, Poitier and Belafonte were present, supporting the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. During the Summer of 1964, to show support for the volunteers of the Freedom Summer Project in Mississippi, Poitier and Belafonte took money to volunteers in Greenwood, Mississippi. As they drove at night to Greenwood, they were stalked and attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, who repeatedly rammed their car, until SNCC members and sympathizers were able to create a caravan around them, protecting them from further KKK violence.
Dr. King would later mention how “[Poitier] has carved for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of our nation’s history.” He would go on to further state, “I consider him a friend. I consider him a great friend of humanity.”
Other notable titles, awards, and honors for Poitier:
1974: Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
1982: The Golden Cecil B. DeMille Award
1992: AFI Life Achievement Award
1994: Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
1995: Kennedy Center Honor
1995 – 2003: Member of the board of directors for The Walt Disney Company
1997 – 2007: Bahamian Ambassador to Japan
1998: South Park episode “Mega-Streisand”, parodied as a hero that helped save the town of South Park
1999: AFI ranked Poitier as 22nd on their list of 25 greatest male actors of American film history
2000: The Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award
2002: An Academy Honorary Award by the Board of Governors of the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
2002-2007: Bahamian Ambassador to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
2009: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama
2016: The BAFTA Fellowship, a lifetime achievement award
Through his amazing body of work in film and civil rights activism, Poitier has and will continue to impact generations of actors, filmmakers, and audiences. As Denzel Washington shared with Poitier, in his 2002 Oscar acceptance speech for his Best Actor win for Training Day, “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, Sir.”
12/7/21 4:06 PM
American Refugee, the upcoming Blumhouse Television horror thriller film premiering on December 10th on EPIX & available for Digital Purchase via Paramount Home Entertainment, examines how the greatest danger can be those closest to you.
Directed by Ali LeRoi, American Refugee shows a modern America where the economy has collapsed, leading to mayhem and anarchy. The Taylor family, headed by Greg (Derek Luke) and Helen (Erika Alexander), must take shelter with their children in their mysterious neighbor’s bunker. As the terror above rampages on, the Taylors must navigate their way within the terror below or pay the ultimate price.
Alexander is beloved for her role as Maxine in the groundbreaking television show Living Single. Her horror credentials include Get Out.
Luke made his award-winning film debut in Antwone Fisher, co-starring with Hollywood icon Denzel Washington. His horror credentials include The Purge television series.
Alexander and Luke share their experiences with horror, American Refugee, and other creative endeavors.
What is your favorite horror movie and why?
Erika Alexander: I wasn’t allowed to watch horror growing up. I had a preacher father. But I tell you one thing, he loves movies and he watched horror. So, we would sneak it.
I didn’t watch The Exorcist till I was grown. That was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen. I love Aliens, which is not considered necessarily a horror. It’s more of a mash-up between sci-fi, horror, and action. That’s a horror movie to me. And frankly, Misery is also a great horror movie.
Derek Luke: My wife loves Aliens. Misery, that’s my favorite.
Horror is something that I’ve been more interested in because of the hybridity of so-called horror and the supernatural. It was the first time in the last several years where I thought, “You know what? I think there’s a storyline that I am open to being a part of that world. But before I can’t really say I was a horror fan. It’s just more like music. You know, it’s like R&B, where things are being mixed, like horror, culture, and present-day topics.
As actors, what do you like about performing in horror and thriller roles?
Erika Alexander: I haven’t really been in a slasher or things like that. But I was in Get Out, which is a great horror movie. I was part of the comedic element of Get Out. I didn’t realize it was a horror movie till I saw it. Then, this obviously comes into horror play. You can see that from the trailer. I think great horror really is about things that you can do nothing about, but you’re stuck in. And that’s what’s horrible about it. The horror comes from the drama.
In American Refugee, they’re stuck in a place, because of the collapse of society around them. They’d rather be anyplace but there, but they cannot leave. So, we all ask ourselves, “Do we do this, or do we do that?”
The idea of horror is to place you somewhere where you can’t do, and your choices are limited. And it keeps closing you into a corner. Then what do you do? And that’s when a person acts. That’s when everything comes to the fore.
I think the best thing about an actor is when their back is against the wall, you sort of see the best version of themselves. As an actor, that can be great acting in horror. And Derek should do more of them because no one would see him coming because of that baby face. He would truly be evil.
Derek Luke: Horror is like a new adventure to me. You didn’t see a lot of people of color in horror. But what I realized opposed to running from it, I’m actually running towards it, because there’s a new audience. I would love to bring some cool narratives that match with the genre, but also make people think.
I’m excited about what opportunities are ahead. Maybe people like Erika and myself can do some collaboration where we become EPs and creators. Just add more twists to it. I think that’s where we are in the nation with cinema, streaming, and all that stuff. That’s what I’m excited about.
How did you become a part of the film?
Erika Alexander: I got a call that Ali LeRoi wants to talk to you. Of course, you say yes. I had a conversation with him. He told me about it. He’s a great storyteller. He’s a wonderful writer and director. I found out this was his second [feature] directing stint. He did a great job. So I was interested in working with him.
Obviously, the bonus is Derek Luke, because everyone knows and loves him. They adore Derek for a lot of reasons. He’s easy on the eyes, he’s symmetrical. There’s something pleasant about him. But there’s also the beauty of him. He’s really done well for himself in film, with amazing roles. Antwone Fisher, where I first saw him, and most people saw him, was amazing. It’s one of my favorite movies. That seared into my brain the opportunity to work with him.
And then American Refugee had great kids: Zamani Wilder, Jessi Case, Peyton Jackson, and Vince Mattis. There’s also Sam Trammell. That’s a great cast. That’s a good time.
Derek Luke: My team sent me the project, I really responded to it, and I read for it. Then all the other elements came. It was traditional for me to either meet or read for a project. But this was exciting because it was a new world.
I got to see how Erica is a force and all the other amazing actors. I got to see her gifts and see the rest of the cast. I think people are gonna be excited. Her instinct, on and off-screen, helped put some magic in this project.
What was your experience like working with Ali LeRoi as a director?
Erika Alexander: Ali was great. He was different. You could see him working things out in his head. He would stop and actually think. There’s a lot of directors who don’t think. I think also feeling us out and seeing how differently we work was important. We worked together as a unit. But we have different ways of communicating that.
I think Derek and I are aligned with the fact that we’re not necessarily talkers about what we’re going to do. We just want to do it. My thing is to not overthink anything, to try to come into it and see what the day holds. If I don’t think I get there, or whatever it is, then I move on and say, “Well, next time, because there will be.”
Ali’s a talker. And he wants to communicate with us. So, I’m hoping that he had a good experience because I don’t know how much I talk. But I think once he accepted how we were much more or less cerebral than we were more feeling, then it all gelled. He didn’t have to change and we didn’t. We came to an understanding. We started to learn and respect that. And that’s about trust, too.
Derek Luke: I only knew Ali in passing. And a lot of my trust in life, let alone directors, has a lot to do with me knowing your body of work. So I came in suspicious of Ali because I didn’t know him. I didn’t know how to trust him. And what I come to admire about him is his methodical way and approach to writing and directing. That’s not usually my way, because my methodical way is more of an instinct IP, where he was more of a mental processing IP. And it’s good to be in those situations, so you can grow.
Since you’ve worked as a producer on documentaries like John Lewis: Good Trouble, are you looking to do more work as a producer in the future?
Erika Alexander: Yes, very much. That’s why I created Color Farm Media. We call ourselves the Motown of film, television, and tech. The idea is to go and seek new voices. I think the new William Shakespeares, the new Martin Scorseses, and the new Mary Shelleys are in the neighborhoods and places that we haven’t mined. Marginalized people, who’ve been ignored for centuries.
It’s a new time. It’s not just going to go through the white male filter. It’s going to change. And I’d like to be the person who helps collaborate, make partnerships, and do those things. Not because it brings a lot of tribute to me. It’s because it’s necessary. If we’re going to change the world, we’ve got to change the story. I think a lot of things have happened, especially you see in the news now, is because people have the wrong story. And they believe those stories, so I’m down to do a lot more of that, and I am.
Is there a chance you might consider being in an active role behind the camera?
Derek Luke: That’s a great question, but no. This is something that I hadn’t really talked to anyone about, except people that are in my inner circle, but for years, I’ve been hearing about pedigree. But lately, what’s been percolating is purpose.
I’ve realized that stories that I desire to tell have more to do with my purpose, opposed to just the pedigree. When it goes down to that, I am excited to embrace behind the scenes. But it’s time, as Erika was sharing, time to switch the lens and the filter. To mine the gifts and talents where people haven’t looked for a long time and that’s exciting.
The cult classic horror-comedy Saturday the 14th, celebrates its 40th anniversary, as a zany love letter to classic 1930s and 1940s horror films.
Directed by Howard R. Cohen, and produced by Julie Corman, Saturday the 14th follows a family who inherits an old home, unknowing that it hides a powerful book, wanted by monsters and monster hunters alike.
Julie has been a film producer for nearly fifty years. She began her career producing films for the distribution company she and her husband, Roger Corman owned. Her first credited producing role was as an associate producer for Boxcar Bertha, the directorial feature film debut of Martin Scorsese. She went on to also produce The Dirt Bike Kid, Brain Dead, Chopping Mall, The Nest, Night Fall, and A Cry in the Wild.
In this extensive interview, Julie shares with us the responsibilities of producing, her memories of Saturday the 14th, and her inspirations for filmmaking.
Justina Bonilla: How did you become a producer?
Julie Corman: In the early 70s, my husband Roger asked me, “I’m making three films now for our distribution company. I wonder if you would take one on and just watch the money on it?” Not knowing what that meant, Roger explained, “Just make sure that the money is spent appropriately.” I replied, “Well, I learned how to balance a checkbook in fifth grade. So, I think I could do that”. Roger continued, “Now, you’re going to need a cameraman, a gaffer, and a grip”.
None of this made any sense to me. I expressed my concern with Roger, “Roger, I can’t produce this, I have no idea what I would be doing”. He assured me, “I’ll be here if you have any questions”. Little did I know, this is Roger’s sort of standard way of operating. Unfortunately, he really wasn’t available. However, everything went well working with the production manager, the equipment houses, and the postproduction houses.
I’m probably the only woman in show business who didn’t want a career in show business but has one.
Bonilla: What was one of your earliest memories as a producer?
Corman: Either a couple of days before shooting or on the first day, the cameraman mentioned that he was going to need a hi-hat adapter. Of course, I had no idea what a hi-hat adapter was. I called the equipment house and asked, “Does he really need this?” I was told, “If you want the camera to go up, down, back, and forth, he needs it.
For technical support, I came to rely very much on a position in the crew that you probably don’t hear about a lot, the key grip (a senior role responsible for camera equipment, supervising grip technician crew members, and collaborating with cinematographers/directors of photography).
Bonilla: How was your experience as a producer for Night Call Nurses?
Corman: I was on edge for the entire shoot of Night Call Nurses, which was 15 days. I realized how many things could ruin the day shooting, like an actor not showing up, or an inappropriate prop. Thankfully, at the end of the day, when Roger asked, “Did you get the day’s work?”, we did.
I like doing research. I loved finding Boxcar Bertha. I’m happy to look for projects, but I thought, “No. I’m not doing this again. The amount of tension. This is insane!”
Bonilla: After producing Night Call Nurses, what lead you to continue producing films?
Corman: Night Call Nurses came out and made a lot of money. Now, the pressure was on. Jonathan Kaplan, the director, wanted to go again. Then, of course, Roger wanted to go again. I reluctantly agreed, “Okay, one more time, but that’s it. Right?”
Then, Francis Doel, who had worked with Rogers for many years, was married to actor Clint Kimbrough, who wanted to direct. Clint asked if I would produce his film The Young Nurses. I was adamant, “No, I don’t ever want to do this again.” Then, Clint revealed, “Julie, you’re the only one I could trust. I know you’ll have my back. I know you’ll help me.” I agreed.
Bonilla: What do you enjoy about the filmmaking process?
Corman: I really enjoy developing a script. I had been an English major at UCLA. I also love working with actors and trying to put actors at ease. I saw what they went through and how difficult it was.
Bonilla: You produce a lot of films that are family-friendly or comedies. What draws you to these genres in particular?
Corman: My children. I had three children in two years and three months.
I went looking for the perfect nursery school and ended up taking the one that was closest to the home in the Pacific Palisades. It’s an area that has grown and changed over time, but it had a kind of small-town flavor. It almost seemed like a Midwestern town.
Around the corner from the nursery school was a hot dog shop. They famously had a little train on tracks that ran around the place and my kids loved that. Little did I know it was the drug drop place for the high school kids, in the afternoon. One day, we drove into town for nursery school and there was a big sign up in front of the hot dog shop that it was going to become a savings and loan business.
Based on that experience and the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, I wrote a treatment for The Dirt Bike Kid. It’s a comedy about a boy with a magic dirt bike, which he gets using money his mother gave him to go buy groceries. He saves the hot dog shop from becoming a bank.
Bonilla: What was the initial reaction to The Dirt Bike Kid?
Corman: Rogers as the distributor was concerned, “A family film? I don’t really know about family films. I’m really not so sure about this.” I emphasized that I really wanted to make this film. He suggested that I get some outside financing. So I did. I wrote this story, developed the script, got the outside financing, and made the film. Roger distributed it to theaters, but it lost money. I was so convinced that this would be a successful film.
Bonilla: How did home video impact The Dirt Bike Kid?
Corman: During the time we were out of distribution, home video reared its head. We were only vaguely aware of it but didn’t think of it as a big source of revenue. However, The Dirt Bike kid went out on home video and sold 100,000 video cassettes. It was our most successful film of the year. That was my introduction to family films.
Bonilla: What lead you to produce the script for Saturday the 14th?
Corman: The screenplay was written by Howard and the story was by Jeff Begun. They brought the project to us. I thought, “This is a lot of fun. I’d like to produce it.”
Bonilla: Who were some of the key people you worked with behind the scenes?
Corman: My normal way of working on a film, is to work with the director to get the cast and crew together. Daniel Lacambre, the film’s cinematographer, had worked with Nestor Almendras and my husband when he made some films in France. Then, I worked with Daniel on a few films here in the US. The editors were Kent Beyda and Joanne D’Antonio. The music was by Parmer Fuller. Parmer is married to a godchild of mine. He runs a music program at USC, and he’s a very talented musician.
Bonilla: With stars Paula and Richard being married, how do you see their marriage influencing their roles as a married couple?
Corman: Anytime actors know and are familiar with each other, it can be very helpful to their performance together. They had very individual ideas about their characters. I didn’t get the feeling that one dictated to the other.
Dick was generally in charge of presenting a message that maybe I wouldn’t like to say to Paula. For example, Paula, who’s supposed to be a vampire in the movie, didn’t want to wear fangs. I thought, “How can I tell Howard that Paula says she’s not wearing these fangs?” Dick assured me, “Trust me, you will believe she’s a vampire.” He was right.
Generally, if actors ask for something, I try to give it to them, because you don’t know why it’s important to them. But you can bet at some level it’s important, and it will have an influence on the performance.
Bonilla: How essential was it for Paula and Richard to play their parts as straight as possible?
Corman: It was essential for them to play their characters straight because everybody tends to get a little wacky. I noticed how they constantly kept like the straight man position. They understood comedy well.
Bonilla: Who were some of the memorable supporting cast members?
Corman: Severn Darden was the guru for The Second City comedy group. I didn’t know the history of Severn with Second City. It was a feather in Howard’s cap to get Severn to be in his movie. Stacy Keach Sr., I believe had been in a film with Roger. Stacy’s comedy chops are well known. And with Rosemary de Kamp, the same thing. Rosemary was the kind of person Howard was happy to have in his film. Roberta Collins had been in some of our other films. Howard wanted Paul Garner, the character actor. He was great. The comedy team Howard put together, with input from me, works well together like a family.
Bonilla: About how long did it take to film?
Corman: It was about three weeks to film. Generally, my schedules were somewhere between three and four weeks, with the early ones in three weeks.
Bonilla: What techniques on set save time for the filming schedule?
Corman: One of the ways that we were able to film in three weeks, was from Roger’s playbook to make films in such a short amount of time. It was to have a second unit, who would go off and shoot.
Let’s say, there was a sequence that called for you to see a horse riding up a mountain. Well, to lug a whole crew up, with maybe 20 people, with the cars, the wagons for the equipment, the lunches, and everything else, would be hugely expensive. But, to get that shot or shots, you send two or three people, to get some shots of the horse running up the mountain. Generally speaking, the second unit would not use the principal actors, because then you have to take sound, and that made it more of a deal than just a second.
In this case, because we were mostly contained in the house, it was difficult to get a second unit schedule that didn’t include Dick and Paula.
Bonilla: Did the second unit have any issues while filming?
Corman: So, the first line of resistance was Dick telling me, “I must tell you, we will not work with a second unit.” I sat down with him and showed him the schedule. I told him, “If you and Paula do these four scenes with the second unit, there are days that you’re not working with the main unit. You can spend all day shooting them, and if you don’t like the results, we can reshoot it.” They agreed.
On the first day that they were going to shoot with the second unit, they came out of their trailer. Dick announced, “B team, we’re here!” Making it all fun, he continued, “We’re all together and it’s gonna be great!” This is like the kind of thing that could only happen in a comedy. They made what could have been an issue with drama and negativity into lemonade.
Bonilla: Where were the two houses featured in the film located?
Corman: I’ll tell you a funny story about this suburb one. I don’t remember where the suburb one was. It was maybe somewhere in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. But I do remember two things about it.
First, there was a Jacaranda tree in the front yard. Nancy Nuttall, my assistant had been a biochemistry major. I asked her, “Nancy, you got one assignment for the week. That Jacaranda tree is not scheduled to bloom until our shoot is over, get it to bloom.” She found that if you watered it with hot water, it would fool it into blooming.
Second, we shot the scene of the family at the end, in front of the door, with the Jacaranda tree. Everything was fine, but Billy, the son, was wearing a plaid shirt. Something didn’t go right, and we needed to reshoot it. Later, it was discovered that Billy was wearing two plaid shirts, one red and one yellow in the reshoot. In the editing room, nobody noticed that he switched shirts, because our dailies were in black and white. When we switched to color at the end no one noticed the shirt switched colors. we were home free.
The old house, as I recall, either belong to or was related to Mount St. Mary’s, a Catholic women’s college. For some reason, they owned this old house, down by USC. I love location scouting. That’s the first thing I ever did in film. I’m always looking at everything when I walk in a place. I’m always thinking if the ceilings are high enough for the lighting equipment, and how many extras we need to fill the space, etc. I remember just thinking this house was great and making the deal with the nuns to use this house.
Bonilla: What was an unexpected funny moment on set?
Corman: Paula had a scene with Severn. For one reason or another, he could not hold onto his lines. So, Howard did many takes with him to get the lines.
Then, it was Paula’s turn. As usual, Paula was great. Howard printed her first take and was ready to move on. Paula screamed, “No”, with a scream that filled the whole house, because she wanted another take as Severn had had. I was there with the whole crew. They just went into a collective silence. Then I laughed. Paula got another take, and all was well. I don’t know why I laughed.
Bonilla: How do you see this film influencing other horror comedies such as Gremlins?
Corman: Joe Dante, who directed Gremlins, worked in our editing room. He worked as an editor, and he had a lot to do with the marketing of our films. Since he worked as a trailer editor, where you’re looking for the best shots to sell the film, he would have been very much aware of this. Now, in addition to being a top director, he has an online site called Trailers from Hell.
Bonilla: This film has gained a devoted cult following. What do you think has contributed to that?
Corman: The appeal seems to be from people who understand film history. That was definitely intentional from Howard and Jeff. They were aficionados of horror films and would get a kick out of putting in references to previous horror films. It’s also a horror film that kids can watch. People are still buying the DVD of the film.
Bonilla: How does it feel to have Saturday the 14th celebrating its 40th anniversary?
Corman: Forty years went by in daily increments for me. I have a poster for Saturday the 14th outside my office. Every day for however many years, I would look at the poster and it would give me a little lift every day. I fondly remember Howard. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. Howard was a very good cosmic mind, an intelligent, thoughtful, and inclusive man.
Later Days, the recent independent comedy film, features local film teacher Sandy Sternshein as a co-director and co-scriptwriter alongside Brad Riddell.
A Gen-X love letter to 1980s comedies, Later Days follows a married middle-aged couple, Mike (David Walton) and Pam (Majandra Delfino), with Mike planning a surprise 1980s prom-themed birthday party for Pam, with their friends and former classmates attending. However, the intended happy nostalgia-fest turns into an unexpected rollercoaster ride.
Sternshein originally from Long Beach, has had a lifelong passion for film. After attending USC film school, he took the path of indie filmmaking. Eventually, he became a popular film and media teacher at the local community colleges, Santiago Canyon College and Santa Ana College, as well as the popular arts charter school OCSA, Orange County School of the Arts.
In his classes, Sternshein encouraged students to follow their writing strengths in a variety of genres, whether it be comedy, action, or horror. He also exposed his students to a wide variety of filmmakers and films, including obscure documentaries, foreign, and classic films, to challenge the way they interpreted film, the filmmaking process, and inspire creativity.
Sternshein shares with us his path from becoming a film teacher, to making an indie movie, and the knowledge he inspires to pass on to others along the way.
Bonilla: What is your connection to Orange County?
Sternshein: I was born in Long Beach, but I grew up in Seal Beach and Los Alamitos. I’ve mostly lived in Orange County, even when I went to USC, I lived in Seal Beach. Jen and I, when we first got together, lived in Hollywood for a couple of years, when we were working in production. I’ve always felt like this is my home and I am much more productive here than I am in LA.
Bonilla: What led you to pursue an education in film?
Sternshein: I went to Whittier college as a religious studies major. The truth is, I wanted to go to NYU as out of high school because Spike and Martin Scorsese went there. It was the school of schools. But I ended up at Whittier. Whittier didn’t have a film major, but I think they had a minor.
I took a class called “Religion and Cinema”. We didn’t have a great film department at Whittier, but this class was life-changing. We’d watch Peter Sellers and Hal Ashby films.
That class exposed me to the idea that to create good films, you have to know things about the world. You have to read everything you can get your hands on and watch everything you can. That class changed it for me. I liked this class so much I decided to become a religious studies major and not a film major.
I ended up going my junior year to Israel, studying in Tel Aviv. I saw the world and the experience opened my eyes.
In 1999, I went to graduate school at USC, right after my wife and I got married. She went to law school and I went to USC’s film school.
Bonilla: What led you to go into teaching?
Sternshein: I knew I wasn’t going to make a million dollars right away at being a filmmaker. If I got an MFA, I could teach film. I had taught before in the Whittier City School District. I knew how to teach and was good at it. So, I could have a career as a screenwriter and make some money.
Bonilla: What film classes did you teach?
Sternshein: At OCSA, I taught screenwriting, production one, production two, and a web series class.
For Santa Ana College, I taught postwar cinema from 1945 to the present day, mass media, introduction to film production, directing/producing from film and television, and all three screenwriting classes, beginning, intermediate, and advanced.
At Santiago Canyon College, I taught mass media and the three screenwriting classes, beginning, intermediate, and advanced.
I’ve taught pretty much everything film-related.
Bonilla: How did you become affiliated with OCSHA?
Sternshein: OCSA started at Los Alamitos High School when my wife was there. My son is at OCSA in Santa Ana. My wife Jena and I both taught there. My kids went to El Sol, a dual immersion school across the street from OSHA, on Broadway, in Santa Ana.
I re-connected with Ralph Opacic, who had been a teacher and friend, who also founded OSHA. Then, I started teaching film classes and screenwriting there. Later, I taught at Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College.
Bonilla: How did you approach film writing when you were teaching?
Sternshein: Like great literature, I wanted to introduce my all students, to this way of telling a story, this personal, independent way of making movies of writing stories. Though they’re small, little stories, they say something about us, about life.
I recently spoke to a class of aspiring filmmakers. I told them, “I know you’ve been through a lot of struggles in your life. Honestly, you can’t be a screenwriter, without some adversity”. I guarantee you’ll come out of it a better writer because you understand.
You have to go through suffering and pain to tell a story with empathy. When you come across people on the camera, or when you’re interviewing them, you have some empathy and bring some of that to the page.
Bonilla: What inspired you to go from teaching to full-time filmmaker?
Sternshein: In my class, at the end of the semester I would tell my students to, “Go out there. Tell your story. Don’t wait for the gatekeepers. Don’t ask for permission”. This is a pitch that I’ve been giving for years. But, I wasn’t doing what I was saying. The more I gave that speech, the less authentic I felt.
Finally, I did two things. One, I went to my wife and I shared, “I’m thinking about getting out of teaching, so I can go make a movie”. It wasn’t her favorite idea, but she agreed, “If your miserable and that’s gonna make you happy. Then absolutely”. And so I did.
Second, I went to Brad, who had moved to Chicago as a tenured professor at DePaul University. He ran the screenwriting program there. I asked him, “I want to try to raise some capital and make a little movie, at one location. What do you want to do?” We threw some ideas around and I pitched this movie.
In 2017, I pretty much walked away from teaching to make this movie. Here we are four years later and it’s finally coming to the screen.
Bonilla: Which film and/or filmmaker inspired your filmmaking?
Sternshein: Spike Lee for sure. I remember seeing Do the Right Thing and it changed me. This idea that the hottest day of summer where everything comes to a head was amazing. Ernest Dickerson‘s cinematography was so warm.
Then, I saw a flyer at McDonald’s that Spike was going to be at Cal State Long Beach. My mom, a teacher, let me take that day off from high school to see him. I was probably a junior in high school. Jungle Fever was coming out and he was beginning Malcolm X. It was life-changing just to hear Spike speak.
As an undergrad at Whittier college, I was in charge of the speaker series. We got Spike to come and speak to at Whittier. Then, I got to have dinner with him. He was so cool. At the time, his production company 40 Acres and a Mule West. He hooked me up with one of his creative executives and was really supportive early on in my career.
Bonilla: How did you meet your filmmaking partner Brad Riddell?
Sternshein: My film partner Brad Riddell and I went to USC together. In our last year, in a scriptwriting class, my screenplay ended up on the first year of The Blacklist and his screenplay ended up becoming a part of American Pie Presents: Band Camp. Brad went the studio route, while I went the independent route.
Years later, we became friends again, and we wrote some comedy together, including a web series.
Bonilla: Where did the inspiration for Later Days come from?
Sternshein: 10 years ago, I threw my wife an 80s prom at the Orange Elks Lodge. She’s an overworked corporate attorney and works hard to support the family. I was home with the kids. At night when she gets home, we’d high five, and I go teach till 10 p.m. Then we’d finally get to bed together and immediately fall asleep. We were like two ships crossing in the night.
For the party, I got everyone in costumes. I thought it was going to be a fun night. But, what’s crazy, is when we put on those costumes, we realized that everyone diverted back to their high school self, and the cliques formed.
Brad had a band camp-like reunion. That didn’t go well. People had issues and all this stuff surfaced.
We thought, “What if the people on your Facebook feed, where everybody’s getting along, liking your photos, who you haven’t seen since eighth grade, all ended up in the same room for a night, and it all goes horribly wrong?”
Bonilla: How did you and Brad delegate the responsibilities of co-writing and co-directing?
Sternshein: We work well together and don’t fight a lot. We also had basic rules with the cast and crew, creating a nice environment on set. Somedays I’m working with the camera and he’s working with the actors. For the most part, we’re both weighing in on things, with one person delegated to speak to the cast and crew.
It was our first directed feature. We’ve been around a lot of movie sets, so it went well. I think in a lot of ways it went better than usual because there were two heads. Usually, a director is frantic since he’s constantly having to make multiple decisions in the same second on set. We still have chaos, but there were two of us making sure everything was going as planned and we weren’t missing anything. I would work again with Brad. I really enjoyed it.
Bonilla: What lead to the decision to film Later Days in Chicago?
Sternshein: We got a tax incentive to go shoot in Chicago, getting 30% of our budget back to shoot in Illinois. It was a huge deal. Even though it’s supposed to be set here in the city of Orange. It ended up making it a Chicago story.
We raised all the money ourselves. Brad and I went to Chicago and pitched to the CMA, the Chicago Media Angels. We were also selected by the SAG/IFP Table Read Series. Also, in Chicago, they had a series where they were reading scripts publicly. They chose ours and we were able to get more financing there.
We did all this about March 2019, before we shot that September. Everything was done in 19 days. We got everything edited by January/February 2020. But, in March, COVID happened.
The good news is that during that time, we worked on the soundtrack and everything else. We needed an authentic 1980s soundtrack. So, we have about eighteen well-known 80s songs on it. It’s pretty cool.
Bonilla: Later Days has a John Hughes feel to it. Was Hughes an influence on the film?
Sternshein: The John Hughes influence is huge. We’re going on 50 and were 13 when Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and all those movies were coming out. We love these movies. Brad also teaches a class at DePaul University which is a John Hughes film class.
When we sat down to write, we thought about The Breakfast Club, wondering, “What if Anthony Michael Hall was the CEO of Facebook?”, or, “What if what if Emilio Estevez, who was the big jock was a stay-at-home Dad?” Also, “How would those guys come to a meeting?” Imagine Anthony 25 years later, with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to everybody that he’s the man.
Since, Hughes’s films took place in Shermer, Illinois, a fake city, in his honor, our movie is set in West Shermer. Also, Audrey Francis who plays Karen in Later Days, is wearing Haviland Morris’ dress from Sixteen Candles.
Bonilla: How else did you inject the 80s film style into Later Days?
Sternshein: This film was shot to look like an old film, using a process to make the film look a little grainy. We really wanted that party to look like something out of the 80s.
The costumes were handmade by Sarah Albrecht. They’re amazing. Sarah did an amazing job. I’m so grateful for her. There’s a couple of Easter eggs we put in the film through famous-looking costumes and stuff in the background.
Bonilla: What does Later Days mean to you?
Sternshein: Later Days is a very personal story. It was how I felt coming out of raising my kids with my wife. Adulting is hard, especially not seeing your wife all day. When you get this age, our parents are getting sick and dying, and all of the sudden, you feel mortal. You have to deal with that now.
Bonilla: How have audiences reacted to the film so far?
Sternshein: Everybody says it’s a sweet movie. Though it’s an R-rated movie, it’s wholesome. I’m kind of a sarcastic and edgy guy. So, when people I know see Later Days they say, “I didn’t think you have that in you”. It surprises them.
Bonilla: Do you have any upcoming projects?
Sternshein: We’re excited to continue to make more films and produce films. We’ve optioned the award-winning book called The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle. It’s a dark, but an award-winning book. Currently, Dominica Scorsese is attached to direct and we’re producing that.
Brad and I are writing a skateboard comedy called Back to the Grind. Tony Hawk is producing it, with Troy Miller attached to direct.
Bonilla: What do you hope that audiences take away from this film?
Sternshein: I hope people walk away thinking it’s a sweet and funny little movie, with a great soundtrack. I’m excited for people to see this and meet the characters. These are characters that we’ve been thinking about for a long time.
Overall, I wanted to make a movie for my wife to enjoy when she’s tired on a Saturday night, as she asks me to put something funny on. I feel like we made this movie for her and Brad’s wife, Tina. A movie that they could curl up on the couch, laugh to, and be distracted from all the complications of the modern world.
Later Days is now playing at select theatres nationally, TVOD, and digital platforms.
10/8/21 7:56 AM | JUSTINA BONILLA
The Manor, one of the four films of the Amazon Studio and Blumhouse Television series Welcome to the Blumhouse, features a strong backbone of producers, including horror veteran producer Sandy King andhorror newcomer Richard J. Bosner.
King established herself in film as a script supervisor on a wide variety of films, including Sixteen Candles. She’s best known for her collaboration with horror icon John Carpenter, in multiple roles as an executive producer, producer, and script supervisor for many of his beloved films, ranging from They Live, to Big Trouble in Little China, and In the Mouth of Madness.
Bosner has produced several independent, including Other People and Black Bear, which both premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He was a co-producer for The Wannabe, which also featured as an executive producer, film titian Martin Scorsese.
Together they share their love for the horror genre, their experiences as producers, and their participation with The Manor.
What is your go-to Halloween movie?
King: I’d say X the Unknown. It’s a hammer horror film.
Bosner: Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I really love that movie. It’s kind of why I love The Manor too. It’s got that gothic horror vibe.
What inspired you to pursue producing?
King: I got trapped into it. It was nothing I aspired to. I was happy being a crew person.
Starting back when I did a TV movie with Carl Borak. He drafted manager associate producing a thing called Key Tortuga, shot largely in the Bahamas. He kept giving me more and more responsibility, and said, “Okay, you’re an associate producer.” I’m like, “What? No, I’m happy being a script supervisor.” Things like that kept happening to me, where I kept accidentally falling into the role.
Once I was with John, everybody kept asking me questions and having me do more things, just by virtue of how close I was to him. I gave up and I finally said, “Fine”.
Bosner: Ever since I was a little kid, I was always wrangling my neighbors, putting them in plays and movies, making them do all kinds of things. Over the years, it kept snowballing. I do enjoy finding different creative people and bringing them all together to achieve one vision. It’s really enjoyable when you find the right group of people to do that.
What do you like about the horror genre?
King: It’s an allegorical genre and an allegorical story format. Good horror is talking about something else. It’s got other layers to it. And you can entertain and inform at the same time. If you make Gandhi, you’re preaching to the converted. If you make They Live, you’re saying something else to an audience that would not necessarily walk in, if you told them you were talking about social justice and who you are. So, in a film like The Manor, we can talk about another societal issue and entertain at the same time.
Bosner: I’m really drawn to the fantastical realism of it that doesn’t have to be set in reality. You can get these messages across in an entertaining way. This is only my second horror film that I’ve done, but I’m such a horror fan. I’ve always loved horror, or even though I end up doing Sundance prestige types of movies. I get to do something like this with amazing people like Sandy and Axelle, it’s doesn’t get any better than that.
How did you become involved as executive producers for The Manor?
King: We drafted Richard as a problem solver. I had worked with Axelle on developing the script and wanted to see her surrounded in a comfort zone that led her to a more European sensibility. That let her do something female-centric and something that would be considered ageist, in what other people considered a teen genre. We share an agent. So, being together was an easy fit.
At the same time, Richard was a great producing partner to bring into it, because it was basically Richard and I against the world, getting Axelle’s version there. And Richard had no choice.
Bosner: It was such a great experience. I felt very blessed to be invited in to help execute Axelle’s vision with Sandy. Axelle did an amazing job as a director, leading with kindness. That sometimes gets overlooked. She did take care of the crew and appreciated what the crew did on the movie. It was always very apparent. That’s such a great environment to be in when you’re creating, to just feel that around you the whole time.
What is your favorite scene in The Manor?
King: I really liked the scenes between Barbara Hershey and Nicholas Alexander. I thought the relationship of the grandmother with her grandson, and watching him be torn between the two realities, really worked for me. Nick did a great job being torn and having to face the things he did.
Bosner: I really like the climax of the movie. That was really fun. We did that out at the Golden Oaks Ranch in the middle of the night, with the snakes and everything around us. We did have a snake wrangler, but I kept thinking the snakes would get us, but it didn’t so we were fine. That was pretty crazy, but fun.
Sandy, how important was it to get the message out about ageism?
King: I happen to think it’s now become more ageless when you can get the studios to recognize that. First of all, everybody for whom it used to be a teen genre is now my age. They didn’t quit loving it. Also, the same way horror used to be considered for 14-year-old boys, but more women now embrace horror than men. We’re brought into the world bloody and screaming, so that may have something to do with it.
It’s a matter of convincing studios that their old presumptions are outdated. You notice that the European films that everybody likes to stream, don’t have those rigid ideas that you have to be between 17 and 23-years-old to be cast, you know, white bread stuff. They’re much more integrated, both age wise and diversity. They’ve embraced those things a lot longer than we have in this country. So, I thought it was great that Amazon chose this one before the Blumhouse association. And that’s what our origins with this film are.
Richard, are you looking to produce more horror films in the future?
Bosner: Yes, absolutely.
Is there a chance you will work together again on another film in the future?
King: I’m dragging him everywhere.
Bosner: Yeah, she’s stuck with me. We’re both stuck with each other. So there we go.
The Manor is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
10/7/21 7:43 AM | JUSTINA BONILLA
Our fourth and final Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television Welcome to the Blumhouse directorial interview series, interviews the director of Madres, a hauntingly disturbing tale from the 1970s, based on true events.
Madres, directed by Ryan Zaragoza, goes back in time to a small 1970s California migrant community, where Beto (Tenoch Huerta) and Diana (Ariana Guerra), a young Mexican American couple are planning to start their new family. However, as strange symptoms and blood-chilling visions haunt Diana, the couple is forced to face the possibility that they are the newest victims of a local curse, or something far more terrifying.
Zaragoza has directed/written multiple short films such as Bebé and The Painter. He has also directed for The CW television series All American and for the upcoming Disney+ series Just Beyond. Madres is his directorial feature film debut.
What is your go-to Halloween movie?
The one that scares me the most is The Exorcist. I can’t watch. I’m shocked when people are just so blase about it and think it’s outdated. To me, it’s terrifying, bold, and just such a great film. So I try to watch that when I’m looking to get scared.
Which filmmakers influence you?
I’m a big Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg fan. Paul Thomas Anderson, I think he’s my guy right now. I’m always fascinated every time he has something to say.
What is your favorite Blumhouse horror movie?
I really like Get Out. That opened up the doors for everything. I think the risk they took on, allowed for a series like this to get made.
How did you become a part of the Welcome to Blumhouse series?
I’ve been talking with Blumhouse for a little while, and they knew the types of films that I want to make. I think the series is really amazing. The platform that they give to filmmakers who are just starting out in their feature careers. They sent the right script my way which piqued my interest. I attached myself as soon as I could.
What inspired you to choose this script for your directorial debut?
Two things, first, that it took place in the 1970s. I am just a huge fan of 70s filmmaking and 70s horror filmmaking. I saw it as a vehicle to help contribute to what those filmmakers were doing at the time and pay homage to that style.
Second, because the story itself dealt with the Mexican American community and population, which is my background. I’m Mexican American. It gave voice to a group of women who were affected by a real-life horror that isn’t really discussed. I saw it as a chance to shed light on the issue.
With Madres evaluating the cultural differences between Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, how important was it for you to explore a topic like this, which we normally don’t see in films?
This was a huge part for me. I saw this story about a woman who speaks very little Spanish and her husband who is fluent, as it’s his first language. Language is often associated with culture. I saw that immediately as an opportunity for great conflict.
Also, I wanted to express my own ideas and my own feelings on the subject through this story. I found moments for these characters to have conversations that address the issues because they’re not black and white. They’re very complex. You can see one way or another, by taking those moments and leaning into the conflict.
How was your experience working with Tenoch Huerta?
Tenoch’s been on my radar for years. I am such a fan of his work and his ability to disappear into his roles. Honestly, I have made quite a few pitch decks and look books. If there is a Mexican male lead, he is the picture that I’m using. He’s just that guy for me.
When we first set out making this film, he wasn’t available. But then the pandemic happened, and we got shut down. By the time we went back up, he became available. So it just became this great moment of, “Oh, I get to finally work with this guy”. Tenoch lived up to every expectation. He’s just a wonderful person.
He’s got something coming up in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It’s a big deal. I’m so happy for him!
What was your favorite scene to film?
I have two. One of them is Diana and Beto having a big fight about speaking Spanish. Beto uses celery as a way of symbolism and communicating that he’s sorry, in his very sweet way. I feel like I put a lot of myself into that moment. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. So, I remember being very teary-eyed as we’re filming it. It just felt like a very raw thing for me to create.
Also, the chopping sequence, I really had fun shooting and making that. It was enjoyable. I could feel the tension building as we were shooting it.
Was there a scene that was the most challenging scene to film?
I think the most challenging scene to film for logistical reasons was on the farm. We were on such a tight schedule to create as much interesting and hopefully beautiful imagery as we could, we got rained out that day. And, we were constantly on the fly, just trying to film as much as we could.
Then it was super-hot. There were these love bugs that were all over everybody. It was really difficult, but everybody had great spirits. That was another beautiful thing. The cast was just so bright and cheerful. They made everything that was hard, much easier.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Hopefully, this is the start of a conversation with an audience that either feels like they aren’t spoken to, whether you’re of Latin background or you just like the style of filmmaking that I’m trying to do.
In the future, what type of projects do you hope to direct?
I’m looking to explore a lot of different genres like action, sci-fi, or drama-romance. I have quite a few projects that I’m ready to hop into. So we’ll see what happens next.
10/5/21 11:02 PM | JUSTINA BONILLA
Part three of our Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television Welcome to the Blumhouse directorial interview series interviews the director of The Manor, as she reveals the film’s horror roots and eerie happenings.
The Manor, directed by Axelle Carolyn, reveals the struggle that Judith (Barbara Hershey) has as she adjusts to the new life in a nursing home, while a supernatural force is terrorizing the elderly residents. Despite Judith’s pleas for help, it’s up to her to find out what is attacking her fellow residents before it’s too late.
Carolyn has a diverse writing and directorial horror track record, including directing and writing for the anthology movie Tales of Halloween and writing for the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recently, she has directed multiple television and streaming series, such as The Haunting of Bly Manor, Creepshow, and American Horror Story.
What is your favorite creepy house movie?
Oh, wow. There are so many. That’s definitely one of my favorite subgenres. In my bedroom, I have a collection of pictures of creepy houses from horror movies. The Haunting is a combination of a great house and a great movie.
Which films and filmmakers influence you?
Growing up, I was a huge fan of Tim Burton and David Cronenberg. I think that those have always stayed. Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow were really defining movies for me. The Fly for sure is amazing. West Craven and John Carpenter, the Greats of the genre. Then, looking back further, Terence Fisher.
I really love Hammer movies. I grew up watching a lot of Hammer movies because those were the ones that my parents thought were acceptable, which is funny because a lot of them have a lot of boobs and blood and stuff like that. They really shaped my view of horror, my aesthetic, and what I like about the genre.
I remember Tim Burton, in the interview once said that he loved horror movies. He always aims to make a horror movie, but it always kind of comes out as something else. He always ends up making a Tim Burton movie. I thought, “This is bullshit. If you love horror, you’ll just think really scary stuff.” Now, I realize growing into filmmaking, you can only make the stuff that’s inside of you. You can love horror as much as you like. But, if your taste is more towards something that’s slightly different, that’s what will come out when you make it.
How did you become a director for Welcome to the Blumhouse?
I wrote the script a little while ago. It was a bit of a journey to get this made. We shot this two years ago. And, before that, it went through a bunch of different iterations, because I was trying to figure out exactly what it was, then bringing it to people and companies.
It was very hard to get it set up, because of the fact that the protagonist is older than usual. Also, the fact that I’m presenting, a bunch of protagonists who are in their 70s. A lot of the feedback was, “We love the scripts, but could we make it about the grandson? Or can we change it and make it about the younger people?” No, that’s not the subject matter of this. Eventually, my reps send it to Amazon Studios.
Aldo Chang at Amazon Studios saw that this was a unique opportunity to do something different. And, to tap into talent, who hadn’t maybe been given the lead role in a while, or just really a chance to do something very different and very unique. He brought it to Blumhouse, because at the time, Amazon was just starting their deal on Welcome to the Blumhouse. This was actually the second movie to be shot in that series.
As the scriptwriter, what influenced the story?
I think it’s partly from visiting loved ones in nursing homes, what it does to you, how it affects you, and how scary those environments are already. And then places you can’t escape easily. It seemed ripe for that kind of movie. There’s a lot thematically to explore as well about the way we treat the elderly and the way we build those nursing homes. There was a lot of stuff about the way that society deals with age. The way that I see myself aging. A lot of anxieties went into that. It’s a way of channeling all that into a supernatural movie.
How was your experience filming at the iconic Stimson house?
I love that house so much. The fact that it was the opening house in House II: The Second Story makes it even better. It’s such a beautiful place. This is my dream home in so many ways. The interior is all this wood carving, all those stained-glass windows, everything feels like it has history, it has a smell, and everything feels rich and amazing.
We got to go in, remove all the furniture, add wallpaper in some places, and dress it the way we wanted. It really molded into what we wanted. It’s one of the biggest elements of the story. Finding the right house sets the tone for everything else. We were very lucky to get that.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Probably all the scenes with the creature, because I love working with prosthetics and practical effects. The point of the movie is not to be absolutely terrifying. We’re not making The Conjuring. But there was enough in the supernatural moments that I liked to put together. It was really fun seeing the monster come together, seeing that suit being put together. All those moments were really, really cool.
Also, directing Barbara with the monster. How great is that? Her reactions are so truthful and so perfectly calibrated.
Was there a scene that was the most challenging to film?
In some ways, everything is challenging. We don’t have unlimited resources or time. So everything is finding that certain pacing. I know that the more emotional scenes of the movie were difficult to shoot, but they’re also beautiful in their own way. There’s a couple of big emotional scenes that we shot early on in the movie that I wish we could have shot later in the schedule because Barbara and I learn to trust each other a little bit more closely. It would have been easier to do later in the day because it does require a lot of trust in your director to be that vulnerable on camera. But it turned out great. She’s fantastic.
Both leads, Barbara Hersey and Bruce Davison have been in memorable horror films. Do any of the other actors have a history with horror films?
Jill Larson was in The Taking of Deborah Logan. She’s also the manacled woman in Shutter Island that goes, “Shhh”.And she’s this gorgeous blonde in real life. Then, Fran Bennett was in West Craven’s New Nightmare. She’d really scared me back in the day. She was playing the part that would be the nurse in The Manor.
Overall, what was your experience working with this cast?
Sometimes things are really hard when you’re trying to put a film together. Filmmaking is not easy. And sometimes, things come together so nicely that you can’t even believe the luck you have. Assembling the cast for this, seeing how the cast got along, and they built relationships the way that you hoped they will. It was such a joy. It was such a blessing.
What has been the best advice that you received from another director?
Directors are not good at giving good advice. However, there’s two that stick with me. One came from Tom Holland, of all people who said, “Don’t”. When I told him I was making my first feature, he said, “Everyone and their mothers are directing these days.” At first, I was very taken aback by that. But I think what he meant was, if you can let anything convince you not to become a director, it’s probably best to stop now. Because it’s going to be so hard, that if anything can get in your way and make you reconsider, it’s probably not for you. You get that door slammed in your face so much. I’ve been so lucky to work consistently in the past couple of years. Before that, it took 15 years of sometimes getting to make an indie movie, but not like not being able to get stuff, not being able to properly set up a career. Then, you have to deal with reviews.
The second one was John Carpenter, who I asked for advice before shooting. He told me, “Sit down. Sit a lot.” I do that a lot on set because my back does hurt. Those are long days.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m hoping to get a couple of features made. I have a script I’m finishing. I have another script that I’m attached to that I’m hoping will get made. I just finished shooting the season finale for American Horror Story. I also have an episode of Creepshow coming out soon. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming out right now. Also, I’ll have episodes for another show that comes out next year.
[Photo Credit: Kevin Estrada / Amazon]
10/1/21 10:04 AM | JUSTINA BONILLA
Part two of our Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television Welcome to the Blumhouse directorial interview series interviews the director of Bingo Hell, who reveals just how blood-thirsty seniors can get over their beloved bingo game.
Bingo Hell, directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, shows the unwanted gentrification of the Oak Springs barrio on its older residents, especially Lupita (Adriana Barraza), who calls it home. Soon a mysterious force takes over their beloved bingo hall, thrusting into a battle for the soul of their beloved neighborhood.
Guerrero has made a name for herself in horror as the director of several Crypt TV shorts, most recently Mistress of Bones. She also has directed several projects for Blumhouse television, including The Purge series episode “Hail Mary” and the Into the Dark: Culture Shock.
If you were a character in your movie, what would be your weapon of choice?
After the movie was made, I thought, “What if Lupita, used a chancla (Mexican slang for a sandal)?” That thing is deadly. I should have just done that. Honestly. That, or a flame thrower would have been great.
Recognizing that Bingo Hell has such a badass leading lady, who is your favorite cinematic leading badass lady?
I love Ripley. I think she’s so strong, in all the Alien films. She’s the best example of a survivor.
How were you selected for Welcome to the Blumhouse?
After the success of Culture Shock, Blumhouse trusted me enough to ask, “So what is next?” That, to me, was amazing, because they really are open to hearing new voices, and taking risks on such wacky stories. So, it felt the right time and place to introduce to them the idea of Bingo Hell.
As co-writer of the script, what influenced the story of the script?
I was catching up with co-writer Shane McKenzie. He shared to me, “Gigi, you’re not gonna believe where I was last night. I went to visit my mother-in-law and went to her bingo hall. And boy, it was terrifying.” He continued, “It was crazy to see all these older folks be so competitive at the game and be so into it. I didn’t want to mess with any of them.” I also shared, “Listen, my grandma loves Loteria (Mexican Bingo). And it’s the same thing. You don’t want to take that away from her.”
Shane asked, “What would happen if we took it away from them?” Right away, we were both realized that’s going to be the movie. We got so inspired by the people that we know, his mother-in-law and my grandma. The characters in this film are based on people we know. And yes, they are that stubborn.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
At the very end of the movie when the whole community comes together for the fight. The big fight was a blast to shoot. I don’t think these actors were acting. They were beating the crap out of the stunt double. I felt very sorry for him. I had to yell at them, “Cut! Cut! Pace yourselves!”
A lot of the dialogue in that scene we didn’t write. All that swearing, like “Who’s Your Mama now?” and “Fight me now!”, were not us.
What was the most challenging scene to film?
The most challenging to shoot was, Clarence in the auto shop when he’s going from reality to fantasy. That was also day one of shooting. It was an exciting challenge.
Grover Colson was the wonderful actor who played Clarence. He had never worked with fake blood and didn’t know what it’s like to be near fake blood. He’s worked in this industry for forty-plus years. He admitted to me, “Mam, I don’t know what it’s like to have blood on me.”
I assured him, “Well, we’re about to make up 30 years of that. So, the moment you feel blood Grover, close your eyes.” And, sure enough, he had fun. He even asked us to, “Take my pictures.” It was a good time.
How was your experience as a director working with Adrianna Barraza?
Before I speak about just Adrianna, this entire cast was a dream come true. They’re all such seasoned actors. That to me, as a filmmaker, has always been a dream. As a new director, I needed to really take into account that I had amazing actors. They have a lot of emotional scenes and a lot of banter. So, I had to just stretch out those scenes for them to play with. That was awesome.
Working with Adrianna was unbelievably great. She’s such a ray of sunshine, always so happy, always so lovely. But the moment she had any of those weapons in her hand, you need to be six feet apart, because she was into it.
That enthusiasm was so contagious. She never had done a role like this, despite working in the industry for so long. She mentioned how, “This is the first time I feel that I’m playing a character that allows me to do everything, from comedic to emotional, to just chingona (Spanish slang for a badass woman).” I could tell in the movie that she’s having a blast. So that trust was set from the beginning with her.
What is your favorite Blumhouse horror film?
That’s a tough one because there are so many good ones, but I feel that the best Blumhouse film is The Invisible Man. It’s a very solid movie, well-acted, well-executed, and a super scary film. It’s one of the best reimaginings I’ve ever seen to.
Currently, what are your top five favorite horror films?
Oh, that’s a list of 100, but I love The Devil’s Rejects, REC, From Dusk till Dawn, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Also, I can’t help but say I’m a sucker for Gremlins. That is definitely the best horror and holiday movie ever made. These films inspire me, so much.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
For directing, I’m excited that Blumhouse and I are still working on a few more scripts. So hopefully something gets made in the next year. It’s one of those moments in a career that you’re hustling, rewriting, developing, and hopefully, someone says, “Yes”. So I’m excited to see which egg is going to hatch first.
For appearances, there’s going to be two animated shows that I do the lead voice for. That will get announced at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. These are the two biggest roles I’ve ever booked. My parents can watch these. I’m excited that people can enjoy my work, now through my voice. So, I look forward to sharing those very, very soon.
Bingo Hell premieres on Amazon Prime on October 1, 2021.
9/29/21 9:46 AM | JUSTINA BONILLA
Welcome to the Blumhouse, the thrilling horror film series from Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television makes its highly anticipated part two debut for the Halloween 2021 season.
In this four-part interview series, we interview the four directors of part two, who put the bloody in bloody good time. They share their passion for filmmaking, along with the gory details of creating horror cinema.
Black as Night, directed by Maritte Lee Go, follows the 15-year-old Shawna (Asjha Cooper), and her best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido), as they spend the summer together in New Orleans slaying vampires. The deeper they explore the secret underworld of the vampires of the Big Easy, Shawna also discovers an unlikely path of self-discovery and finds the inner strength to fight back against her biggest fears.
Maritte, who is an assistant director, producer, writer, and actor, makes her directorial feature horror film debut with Black as Night. She has previously directed the short films Illipino and Remittance. In horror, Maritte wrote and directed the “Vehophobia” segment of the 2021 horror anthology film Phobias.
What is your favorite vampire movie?
Maritte Lee Go: 30 Days of Night and Interview with a Vampire. I have watched both of those movies way too much.
Which films and filmmakers influence your directing style?
Maritte Lee Go: Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro Iñárritu. I love everything they do. I watch their movies over and over, like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. They’re really grounded in movies that explore humanity, the pain of humanity, the obsession with perfection, and just being greater than then who you think you are or where you come from. And I really analyze their work a lot. I take a lot of inspiration from their movies.
What drew you to the script for Black as Night?
Maritte Lee Go: I was immediately drawn to it. I love horror films. I’d never seen a movie like this, with a black female lead. I’d never seen anything tonally like this either. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a similar tone. The script was also very original.
So it kind of added that other layer, combining so many of my loves. I was able to explore, comedy, drama, horror, and put all these loves together in one script. It’s a well-rounded, deep movie that is also super fun.
How did you become a director for part two of Welcome to the Blumhouse?
Maritte Lee Go: I was pitching another film to Amazon that I had been developing. And luckily, the execs really liked how I pitched. They didn’t buy the project. But they really liked the way that I thought. So, I was able to pitch this movie. I had previously done another horror anthology, so I was already in the horror space.
When I read the script for Black as Night, fell in love with it, put together a pitch packet, and a pitch reel. I pitched my heart out, telling them my vision of how I saw the movie and they loved it.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Maritte Lee Go: My favorite scene to shoot is the death of the mother. We had to do this in several parts because, of course we can’t just throw the actress out of a window. But we did throw a stunt woman out the window. We also got to light her on fire.
We had to film it in three different locations. It was the actual apartment, where we did that scene. Then, we had to build a separate stage to lite the stunt woman on fire. Finally, we went to another building that looks like the projects where she’s jumping out of the window. It was just so exciting, so scary.
Lighting someone on fire is no joke. There was this thing that ignites so fast, and she’s running around screaming in the process. We had to protect her hair and her skin. It takes a long time. So it was a very dangerous act.
And then, jumping out of the window of the building. It was on the fourth floor, and she landed in over 200 boxes. It’s crazy because she really jumped out of a window and landed in boxes. It was awesome. It’s a huge adrenaline rush. And I just love that it looks so good.
What was the most challenging scene to film?
Maritte Lee Go: The challenge was being stopped by COVID. Then, shooting through COVID. This is a small-budget film. We didn’t get more days to shoot, it was just reduced hours, reduced crew. And then, we were into another season where lightning storms were happening. So with reduced hours, less crew, and trying to do a vampire movie where people can’t touch or breathe on each other is very hard.
People are coughing in the movie. That’s the most terrifying thing you can do nowadays is cough public. So, we had people covering their mouths and moving their shoulders like they’re coughing, but they’re not actually coughing. And for the bites, people had to just position their heads to make it look like they’re biting. We had to digitally remove all of their masks.
We were shooting through storms. It rained for like three hours at the beginning of the day. So a lot of the scenes were done in one to two takes because there was really no time to get it done. We realized, “If we don’t get this, then we won’t be able to tell the rest of this scene, which will affect the story”. There was a lot of trying to figure out how to do everything very fast. But, huge challenges, with such a huge payoff. I mean, what an opportunity and how lucky we are to be able to work through a pandemic.
What was it like to work with horror icon Keith David?
Maritte Lee Go: Keith’s amazing. He’s a very intimidating, powerful person in real life. He just has so much power. He has this booming voice that everybody stops to listen to. He’s extremely knowledgeable and talented. I was able to hear his life story before he started shooting.
Keith really vibed with so much of his character in the movie. He could relate to it and understand why people could get a certain way. He’s a very talented person. It was such an honor to work with him and I can’t wait to work with him on another project.
If you were a character in Black as Night, how would you kill a vampire?
Maritte Lee Go: I would love to be a Japanese Samurai is with a giant sword. And I would just slice their head off and blood spraying everywhere. Kill Bill is on my mind right now. But that’s such a badass way.
What is your favorite Blumhouse horror film?
Maritte Lee Go: I’ve probably seen Insidious the most. The tension in Insidious is insane. So I watch every scene over and over, to figure out the sound design and the editing. There are other films where they hold tension in silence for so long, I’m yawning. But, for some reason, director James Wan is such a master of tension. He’s brilliant.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Maritte Lee Go: Yes, I’m taking a slight departure from horror on my next film, exploring genres. I’m set to direct a Miramax film. It’s a musical. And I’m really, really, really excited for that. We’ve been prepping for the last few months and we’re set to shoot next year.
Black as Night premieres on Amazon Prime on October 1, 2021.