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Nicholas BrendonNicholas Brendon - ’Unholy’ Movie - Creators Chat With Aintitcool.com
Thursday 3 March 2005, by Webmaster
Sheldrake chats up the creators of the indie horror flick UNHOLY starring Adrienne Barbeau and Nicholas Brendon!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our man in New York, Sheldrake, as he talks to a couple up and coming geeks, like you and me, who have buckled down and shot a low budget flick with some real talent in front of the camera. I love Adrienne Barbeau... her work on CARNIVALE is excellent and shows she hasn’t lost her edge as a performer. Her chemistry is still strong. I’ve never been a fan of Buffy... I’ve tried to get into the show, but I haven’t been able to... However, I liked Nicholas Brendon as a character actor and am curious to see if he’ll be able to make the jump outta Buffyverse. Now this movie is a big question mark. It could be good or it could be a direct to video wonder. No one knows, but I do know they have a good cast and these two guys below seem like genuine geeks. Here’s Sheldrake!
THE "INTRODUCING WHOEVER" SERIES
February 24th 2005
New York City
Sheldrake here, reporting live from the Doma Café in Greenwich Village. Tonight I took the #1 train, the red line, the one I rode as a kid, downtown from the Upper West Side. I get out at the 14th Street Station on Broadway and walk through a roaring blizzard to the café. By the time I get there hat, coat and glasses are frosty. I get a cappucino in a cup the size of a large cereal bowl and start to onboard my caffeine for the interview to come. I’m shaking from the coffee and sugar overdose inside of ten minutes.
Tonight I’m talking to Sam Freeman and Daryl Goldberg, writer and executive producer of a new film, THE UNHOLY, starring Adrienne Barbeau and Nicholas Brendon, Xander of Buffy fame. You’ve never heard of them-Sam and Daryl I mean-and neither have I, because this their first feature film. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know how good their movie is. Totally unknown quantities. But this is the beginning of a series I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Look, there are certain cultural advantages to living in New York City in 2005, and, yeah, I realize this isn’t news: but stay with me here. One advantage is that because of tax incentives and new studios going up, because of Tisch at NYU and Columbia and several other film schools and the influence of series like Law and Order, the Brooklyn Navy Yards becoming the Steiner Studios (first production: The Producers, they’re building sets now) New York City is becoming once more a major film town. There’s new stuff going on here all the time. If this were a tabloid (hush hush) I’d be announcing that these guys are the stars of tomorrow, today (though I’d never cut them to look like Veronica Lake)! And they just might be. They’ve done what all of us dream of doing: they got a script together, they found some money, they found the crew, they pulled together a cast that is in my opinion perfectly pitched towards the dramatic thriller kind of movie they’ve made. What I hope to do in a continuing series is interview new artists like them, the new people who are making the new films here, and report back to you on what I find out. It’s gonna be a crap shoot-but baby needs new shoes.
I don’t want to tell you much more about Sam and Daryl or their movie in this introduction, because I want you to have the same experience I did, finding out about them and their picture by getting to know them here at the Doma Café over a cup of coffee. In the words of Gary Gilmore, let’s do it.
Sheldrake: Ok, Topic A: the beautiful Adrienne Barbeau stars in your movie, “The Unholy.” I saw the shots you sent - she looks incredible!
Sam: She does.
Sheldrake: Fans know her largely from Swamp Thing and Escape From New York, but someone reminded me today that she’d started out on Maude, a Norman Lear show, with Bea Arthur. And she had one of the big 1970s cheesecake posters, which I had up on my wall at a certain point.
Daryl: Yes, that’s right. She was a complete wish list item for us when we were putting the production together. We never thought we’d get her, but we sent her the script and lo and behold she actually liked it!
Sheldrake: And Nicholas Brendon, who’s Xander in Buffy...
Sam: Let me tell you-ok, I had NO friends in high school, so I had my Tuesday nights free! When I was a kid, Buffy and her crew WERE my friends, I became obsessed, my mom became obsessed Buffy...and I think I told Daryl I wanted Nicholas Brendon almost from the beginning, and he said, the guy from Buffy? There’s no way we’ll get that...and...I dunno...did I cry when you called me and told me Xander wanted to do it?
Daryl: You were crying inside.
Sam: I cried, I called my mom, she started crying...
Sam Freeman (writer) and Daryl Goldberg (director)
Sheldrake: Daryl, this is your first time directing a feature? What other sorts of things have you done?
Daryl: I did music video for an indie rock band called Copland, some shorts.
Sheldrake: So your joining the list of guys who’ve made that commericials/music videos to features move: Spike Jonz, McG, Michel Gondry...
Daryl: ...the guy who did Constantine did the Brittany Spears video...the Copland video did fairly well, it won an MTV award, and we sent it to Adrienne when we were sweet-talking her into doing this thing-she liked it and was willing to talk to us.
Sheldrake: Sam, you’re the writer for The Unholy. What’s your background writing screenplays?
Sam: In college I sold two screenplays abroad to a production company in India.
Sheldrake: You sold Bollywood scripts!!!
LAUGHS - Sheldrake resists temptation to write rest of interview as Bollywood musical...
Sam: That was my big break! I sold two scripts. The Peak and The Forbidden Trade.
Sheldrake: What attracted you to writing Bollywood stuff?
Sam: I was only somewhat tuned into Bollywood. I wrote a script and put it on this website that let’s screenplay writers put their work up there, and the producers can read their work.
Sheldrake: I get it - Monster.com for screenplays.
Sam: It takes away the query process-they come to you. Someone came to me and said I want to buy the script and make it into a movie, and he did, and I wasn’t too happy with it, except that it was the first time seeing my work produced-I was 21.
Sheldrake: Brilliant. You outsourced the production of the screenplay. When I was a software developer, there were a lot of similar “not thrilled with the quality” outsourcing experiences.
Sam: He did another movie of mine which I haven’t seen the latest cut of yet-and that’s where I started. And I used the money I got from that to make “The Unholy.”
Sheldrake (sizing up Daryl): I’m guessing you were a ... Tisch student?
Daryl: We both were!
Sheldrake: Is David Irving (Amy’s brother) still there?
Daryl: Still there. He took a sabbatical to try to make his own movie but, uh, you know...he came back.
Sheldrake: Are they STILL using the Ariflex cameras?
Daryl: Still. And they still cut on the Steenbecks.
Sheldrake: Let me do my best Bill Murray impression - “Medieval French poetry? What a waste of time!” (WILD LAUGHTER) An almost totally useless skill in the new marketplace. How did you find Sam’s script?
Daryl: We had mutual friends in school-
Sam: —yeah, I was at Tisch too. The screenwriting program.
Sheldrake: So you’ve shot a lot of film...
Daryl: Yeah, we went with HD though for several reasons. It’s a unique look, we want it to look like that. You know, people make small HD movies, they spend a lot of time trying to make it look like a hundred million dollar movie. Well, it’s not a hundred million dollar movie, so instead of trying and failing to make it look like one, instead we want to show people something they’ve never seen before. I can control the image and I guarantee I can make it look like something new...
Sheldrake: How long did it take to shoot?
Daryl: 18 days.
Sheldrake: Three days longer than Before Sunset.
Sam: A VERY small budget.
Sheldrake: Let’s do a cast rundown: Adrienne Barbeau...
Daryl: Nicholas Brendon, Xander from Buffy, Susan Willis who was in The Faculty, Joe McKenna, he was in The Long Kiss Goodnight and 12 Monkeys (One-Eyed Jack) and co-star of Rounders...
Sheldrake: Ok, Mr. Writer: the story. So get me interested.
Sam: I came up with the story by looking over various conspiracy theories that are rampant on the web. I found one about Nazi occults—
Sheldrake: -whoa—I just saw a great documentary on PBS the other night, called something like Nazis and the occult. Dealt with some of the mythologically inspired beliefs the Nazis sought to engender in Germans, the ideas about pure blood, of course, but also the connection to the, you know, for lack of a better phrase, the Wagnerian past, and the idea that the spirit was quite literally contained in the living blood of a human being - and Hitler apparently touched flags to pass on his personal power to these things - the flag wasn’t just a political symbol, but a theocratic religious symbol with actual mystical power attached to it. Fascinating subject matter...
Sam: Yeah, it’s pretty strange that politics and the mystical stuff were so mixed up. Our story is that the Nazi Occult was smuggled into a small town in America right after WWII - our own government hoped to harness its power for its uses.
Sheldrake: That’s a cool idea. Kind of DC Comics, Golden Age, Justice Society in an eternal repeating battle, ok...I’m there.
Sam: You know in a lot of this kind of movie you see boyfriends and girlfriends, or groups of teenage kids, those kinds of relationships, and I wanted to make that a family relationship, a mother son relationship, instead, and even take a chance and have a lady who’s the age to have teenage children, make her the female lead...
Sheldrake: And who is still REALLY hot.
Sam: Yeah, she IS hot. And the family, and the mother and her daughter’s suicide... So we wanted to write this really close-knit family drama as the background for the Nazi occult story...
Sheldrake: (instantly) Ordinary People meets Hellboy. Damn! (ashamed of himself) Sorry, that’s the cinematic equivalent of Tourette’s...
Daryl: Better than Ordinary People.
Sam: Hmm. Though NOT better than Hellboy. Anyway, we’re looking at the question of how far our own government would go to learn the secrets of the power of this technology...when is it too far
Sheldrake: ...so, the power that they found changes their character...they may have started out with good intentions, but...
Daryl (calling a halt to this) Yeah, and for the rest you have to pay to see the movie! There’s a lot of character development in the movie, tension with what’s going on, tension between members of the family-and it starts the minute the movie starts, you don’t get off that train.
Sheldrake: (mulling things over) Back to the Nazi element. As we’re talking I’m thinking about the various decades and the ways Nazis have been treated in films. In the early 40s of course, they were the enemy to be defeated, as in Casablanca. Then in the mid-to-late 40s you had Orson Welles’ The Stranger, there might be Nazis on the run hiding, let’s find ‘em and kill ‘em. Then in the 50s we discovered the Communists, politically and in film...and they became the Nazis. And in the 60s, the Nazis just sort of became standard bad guys in great costumes, stuff like the Dirty Dozen, which I love, Victor Franco’s god, but it’s pop entertainment, it’s a pop film: and the Commies became the early 40s Nazis, the real and present danger...
Daryl: ... and the logical end of that road was the Nazis as portrayed in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Sheldrake: Yes. Theeeen in the 90s things got reaaaaly funny, very politically sensitive, reaally weird. Suddenly Hogan’s Heroes was no longer funny, and I have no idea what that meant for Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17. Suddenly, probably after that Michael Moriarty Nazi thing aired, then Sophie’s Choice, the Nazi thing demanded more accurate treatment-they became more than ever symbols of inhuman, unredeemable evil. That culminated in Schindler’s List, right, where the evil they represented was almost transcendent, and lately we have the Downfall where they’re portrayed humanly again - humans driven by crazy evil ideas, obviously-they’re the wrong trousers and they’ve gone wrong-but recognizably human.
Sam: We take a little from the real, a little from the other stuff...we wanted to make a good story, a good dramatic thriller. We’re looking for distribution - we’re talking with an associate producer for Zombie Honeymoon
Sheldrake: What the hell is that?
Sam: David Gebroe , a romantic tragic zombie film...
Sheldrake: Zombies are really making a splash...
Daryl: (Dino Di Laurentis like) There are no zombies in my movie.
Sheldrake: Ok...here’s a pitch...radioactive zombie Nazis!
Daryl: Someone overheard you. “Did you hear what the guy from Ain’t It Cool suggested!??” That’s going into production next week.
Sheldrake: So, you’re starting out, you’re pulling the cast together, making the first feature film of your career, and you’re making an action thriller with kinda spooky overtones...is this a direction you want to go in?
Daryl: I love action thrillers with the Hitchcock style suspense. Seeing the knife pressed to the throat is more exciting than the knife cutting the throat...
Sheldrake: ...seeing the bomb ticking, yeah - the Truffaut / Hitchcock book.
Daryl: Yeah, that’s right. Phenomenal book. Sam and I are working on another movie, a kid’s adventure, a really warm-hearted movie, very different, a pet project...
Sheldrake: What was different for you in shooting this, as opposed to shooting a music video? Besides you’re not cutting to the beat?
Daryl: (laughs) Well, I might still cut to the beat once in a while. I come a little from a music background...
Sheldrake: Which means what?
Daryl: I drummed in some crappy bands. But a movie like this is all about story...I liked to have story in my music videos, but basically as far as just doing a shot because it’s cool-movies are more about story, music videos are more about “isn’t that cool.”
Sheldrake: Ah, the grammatically correct version of our thing...
Daryl: (laughs) Also for the music video you have three days to shoot four minutes. Here I had a whole 18 days to shoot a 90 minute-2 hour feature! What a luxury. (laughs again, then shivers from the memory) Four hours sleep on a good night. On location in Queens and New Jersey, negative 6 degree wind chill days.
Sheldrake: So a bit of an ordeal...
Daryl: Some days I barely had time to-oh, I can go to the bathroom! oh, no I can’t! Sam was bringing buckets to the locations, our shooting schedule was so tight.
Sheldrake: With that kind of schedule, what kind of coverage were you able to shoot?
Daryl: When I first made my first shot list for the movie it was a six week shoot-and everyone freaked out. So to accommodate everyone I cut my shot list-and then it turned out I shot the original shot list anyway, we needed every shot, so I got all the coverage I needed. We got 99.9 percent of what we needed. Even though Sam never seemed to make it the nights that were coldest...
Sheldrale: You had a writer on the set? Were you writing throughout the shoot...
Sam: No, I was there in the role of Executive Producer, really. We did extensive rewrites before the shoot....
Sheldrake: Tell me about your writing process.
Sam: Basically, I wrote a draft gave it to Daryl, he made notes and gave it back to me, I did another draft, gave back to it to Daryl...
Daryl: Then we did drafts together and argued and fought
Sam: I won!
Daryl: (snorts) You haven’t seen the movie yet.
Sheldrake: During these drafts were you side by side, or email?
Daryl: a lot of IM., a lot of Email. I like being side by side but, you know, Sam’s a little...he’s terrified of people.
Sheldrake: Sam, looking at you, I’ll bet you were one of those kids, growing up you wrote all the time...
Sam: (sharply) What, do you mean I look like a dork?
Sheldrake: (laughs) Hey, what am I, chopped liver?
Sam: I come from a Jewish family, so I grew up writing Hannukah stories, and Passover stories...and now I’m writing my Nazi story!
Sheldrake: (another Bill Murray moment) Where are you from, originally?
Sam: (pause) I live in New York now.
Daryl: (dryly) That’s what people from New Jersey say. I’m from Fort Worth.
Sheldrake: Ok, so, moving on: did you storyboard before the shoot.
Daryl: Oh yeah, we storyboarded every single shot in the movie. Everything.
Sheldrake: Did you use anything to do that...?
Daryl: Yes. I used my girlfriend.
Daryl: You want a phenomenal test of a relationship? I stood over her shoulder every night for three months acting out every shot going, “no, bigger! no, smaller!” I wrote out a shot list and she storyboarded every single shot with me complaining the whole time. The 18 day thing - it saved the movie, because I’d already edited it in my head, there were many fewer decisions to be made on the set.
Sheldrake: So your set was really all about-execution, is that fair?
Daryl: Yes-you know, I knew what I wanted. It’s not like nothing ever changed, but even months ahead of time I could tell the people involved in the shot, it’s going to look like THIS shot from HERE, from THIS point of view, we’ll see THIS but not THIS...
Sam: I was watching the HD on the monitor - to my admittedly non-discerning eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between that and film.
Daryl: Our cinematographer was Jeff Maher. He did a fantastic job.
Sheldrake: you guys are two days int post-production right now. Daryl, you’re editing the film-what sort of a system are you using:
Daryl: We’re editing on a FinalCut Pro system, shot digitally, edited digitally.
Sheldrake: I want to ask about something that interests me especially, the economics, the business side. You’re young filmmakers, right? You’ve got a lighter camera, ok, a cheaper technology, you can move faster and a lot more people have access to it. In the old days the story about becoming a director was- get a job at a studio-get access to all their incredible wealth and resources, right? The technology was out of reach of most people-it just didn’t exist for them, it was expensive and scarce. Now, there HAS to be more competition, as there is in software, which is a form of what you guys do-how do you see the competitive landscape, with more people, more movies and fewer and fewer screens to throw the images on?
Daryl: Well a lot of people take HD for granted, oh, I’ll just run off with a camcorder and anyone can make a movie. A lot of time that means the image suffers.Film has a lot more natural beauty to it. A lot of the time you CAN take film and just shoot it and it can come out looking great. The idea that anyone can make a movie-look, personally, I encourage anyone who wants to make a movie to absolutely do it, make the movie. But to just assume it’s going to be a good movie, it’s going to come out looking good because you have an HD camera, that won’t happen. Competion will help-the cream will rise. If your movie sucks, it’s gonna suck no matter how cheap it was or how expensive it was.
Sheldrake: What camera did you use to shoot?
Daryl: The Panasonic Varicam, which, if you buy it is a $75,000 camera.
Sheldrake: You rented it.
Daryl: Yeah, we got a great deal on it. Shooting in January: for some reason no one wants to shoot in January...because it’s COLD outside! I highly recommend it if you’re trying to make a movie on and there’s not a lot of extra money...if you don’t mind subzero weather, shoot in January. Just don’t let the camera freeze on you.
Sheldrake: What’s the next step?
Sam: We need a distributor!
Daryl: When postpro is done, the producers will start looking at the distributors, I’ll start working on the next movie...
Sheldrake: Are you pushing it out to the festivals, Tribeca’s coming up...?
Daryl: Yeah, the festivals, and to the distributors, and we’ll look at our options when we get to that point...
And that’s it. I hope you enjoyed meeting Daryl and Sam as much as I did, and we all wish them the best of luck. I asked to see some of their edited footage (is it still “footage” if it’s digital?), but they were only two days into post-production so I decided to cut them a little slack. But I’m going to go BACK into the editing room with them soon and promise to bring you back another report. I’m planning on following the progress of THE UNHOLY with regular reports through it’s release, when and where that happens, and I want you, our AICN readers to come with me on the trip.