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Monday, 25 March 2013

Interview with James Balsamo (Hack Job, I Spill your Guts, Cool as Hell).

Here we have an interview with an amazing and talented up and coming director. Having seen two out of three of his movies (I Spill your Guts and Cool as Hell) I was fortunate enough to be able to question James Balsamo on many things. What follows is a glimpse into the mind of an amazingly talented individual.

D.C. What first interested you to get into movie making?

J.B. Well, since I was 8 years old, I wanted to play a horror movie slasher like Jason Vorhees. My parents enrolled me in The Lee Strassburg acting school in NYC. Years passed, along with acting agents, voice lessons, diction and singing coaches, then acting in small roles on TV, and in movies. All of this with me still hoping I could achieve my dream of being in horror movies. I stayed with the acting gig till college, when I realized I could make my own movies. Then, with all that experience behind me, I could star in them. So I picked up a camera and went to college for film. The rest, is horror history.

Tell us about your directing style.

As a director, I really enjoy letting the actor take control of their scene. I like to come to the set with an optimistic spirit and open mind. Then anything can happen. If it feels right, let it ride. I write a lot of gags, and sometimes they don't always work out. However, on the other hand, I do get ideas on set. For example, the ending of 'I Spill your Guts' was totally different in the script. Dennis was going to impale Joe with the American flags pole and his guts were going to pour out as Dennis saluted him. When we got on set, the owner of the junk yard, Joe Mammolito said we could smash whatever we wanted. He even gave us a car to use. So when life gives you cars, you have to make murder-ade!

You manage to mix comedy and horror really well. Do you find this difficult?

I don't look at writing comedy as a challenge. I just write what I think is funny. It's just a happy coincidence that other people find my warped sense of humor entertaining. Some people may remember that I was a stand up comic for a while, so needless to say, comedy is a natural stomping ground for me. I feel the key to a good comedy horror is going from one extreme to the other. Either the audience is laughing at you, or with you. Playing the lead role of Rich in 'Cool as Hell', I take a lot of comical abuse in the film, as any person would probably take abuse sporting cheetah hair and Hawaiian shirts.

How did it feel when you realized you were actually making your very first movie?

Well, to be honest, I kind of jumped head first into my first feature. That was without really knowing how to swim, so to speak. In high school, I directed some music videos for a band that I was in. After I graduated, I really wanted to make a feature film. However, I had no idea of the process, so I grabbed a video camera and some friends and started filming a Kung-Fu/vigilate/possession film called 'The Mark' which, after alot of reworking became the third story in my first anthology feature film 'Hack Job'.

At the time, I was working at a video game store that also sold used DVD's. A customer was buying a copy of 'The Toxic Avenger'. As I was ringing him up, I said "That movie looks awesome"...[let me just get off topic for a second. I grew up right before the explosion of the internet. That's why most of my horror film intake was just what I picked out from the DVD covers I liked, or what the rental guy would recommend. I grew up on 'The Toxic Crusaders' which was a cartoon spin off of the demented film 'The Toxic Avenger'. The film that this guy was about to purchase. It was then realized that I had never actually seen the film. Amazingly, the stars in the cosmos were about to align]. He said the movie was made by a company in N.Y called Troma, and they were looking for interns. All I had to do was just call and apply. Needless to say, I made the call, and the rest is history. It's funny how things work out. If that customer wouldn't have picked up that copy of 'The Toxic Avenger' who knows if I would be where I am today. Now that I have strayed from the beaten path of the question, let me get back on topic.

I was filming a feature called 'The Mark' and i recently got an internship with Troma. The months quickly turned into a year. I now had Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rochon in 'The Mark'. With my acting skills in hand, I even got to play the part of The Toxic Avenger in a few DVD intros. However, in reality, I wasn't getting the film making knowledge I wanted. You see, Troma, when they are not making movies, are essentially a DVD warehouse. I started work for them right after they finished shooting 'Poultrygeist'. So I decided to go to college for film and give the whole Troma thing up.

While in film college, I started a horror movie club. I made friends that I still have today, including Peter Cromwell, who made the title sequences for my films 'Hack Job' and 'I Spill your Guts'. From that club, I had a built in crew to continue filming 'The Mark'. Amazingly, with talent all around me now in the club, I also found members to create my dream band called Mush. Mush was an acronym for Monsters Under Satan's Hand. We were a GWAR knock off band, and I couldn't have been happier. I wore a fishnet shirt and fishnet leggings with a pair of boxers I had hot glued some fur on. With costumes and talent, the band took off.

'The Mark' was at a run time of about forty minutes, and it stayed there. I put 'The Mark' on the back burner, and kept the band strong for about two years. Like all good things, Mush soon came to an end. The other members got tired of wearing costumes and wanted more complicated songs than our town favorites like 'Donut' and 'Robot Badgers'. I quickly jumped ship back to making films. 'The Mark' was haunting me to finish it, but I ignored it's cries. I tried to make a biker flick called 'Death Cycle', but that feature film idea soon dissipated and became a series of shorts. I had often thought about doing 'Death Cycle' as a feature, but being friends with James Bickert, director of 'Dear God No', I wouldn't want to step on his biker genre toes. 'The Mark', now stuck at forty minutes, collecting dust and still calling my name, sat on the shelf. Fast forward a few years later. I rekindled a high school friendship with Michael Shershenovich (director of 'Bloody Christmas'). After about a year of watching bad movies together, I said "Mike, I have this forty minute film called 'The Mark'. Lets put our other short films in it and make a feature film just to say we made one". Mike didn't feel confident enough in his short films to do that, so he was opposed to the idea. I was making short films for long enough, and was hellbent on making a feature. I said fine, then we will make new short films, and use 'The Mark' as the final story. We started making the first short of the anthology called 'Tomb of the SS'. Quickly after that Mike decided he wanted to do his own feature, so he wrote 'Bloody Christmas'. We did a month of pre-production, and then a month of filming. I did all of the FX in the film, and the crew was Mike and I. After all the work on 'Bloody Christmas' was finished, it came time for Mike and I to swap footage. Then, from left field, he hit me with a whopper! He had decided he didn't want to swap, because he thought it would compromise his film. [To spite what we had already agreed on]. I was shocked to say the least, but not deterred. Just another life lesson learned. I realized we just couldn't be a team. By now, my film was just fifteen minutes short of being a feature. So close, yet so far. Out of that loss of friendship, came an outpour of drive and determination. I went above and beyond to make the film amazing. I cast Dave Brockie, the lead singer of my idolized band GWAR. I invited Mike to be part of the short to show him I had no hard feelings. I really have no hard feelings towards Mike. I think all things happen for a reason, and that cameo of Dave Brockie really bought things full circle for me. The reason I had all that back story is because I was actually making my first movie through that entire time span. The time I started 'The Mark' till when I finished the three shorts in 'Hack Job' was over six years!! It felt amazing the whole time, and it still does. Only now, I make movies for a living.

Tell us about Hack Job, I Spill your Guts and Cool as Hell.

Hack Job.

James and Mike are angry that art films are getting all the credit that horror films deserve, so they get a script directly from the Devil, and embark on a mission to make the sickest anthology horror movie of all time. A hilarious film filled with gratuitous nudity, gallons of gore and the most insane psychobilly, punk and metal soundtrack ever! And with legends like Lynn Lowry, Debbie Rochon, Dave Brockie, Troma's Lloyd Kaufman and ODERUS URUNGUS from GWAR as the stars-get ready for the most demented blood drenched horror comedy adventure ever committed to film. This ain't art-this is a HACK JOB!

I Spill your Guts.

This patriotic, retro-horror revenge flick runs red, white and blue with buckets of blood! When two friends are ambushed on the front lines of war, Joe takes all the credit as a hero while Dennis, the true hero, is disabled for life. When they return home to New York City, Dennis makes sure the horrors of war continue on the streets of the city, as everyone is made to pay for his lie...with their lives!! I Spill your Guts features a punk/metal soundtrack from Suffocation, Cannabis Corpse, The Meatmen, Calabrese, GHOUL and In Strict Confidence, and features an all-star independent film cast.

Cool as Hell.

Rich and Benny have always had trouble with the ladies, until they befriend a demon named Az. It's a non-stop party until a killer soul eating beast leaps through an open portal from the underworld and starts terrorizing their city. Now it's up to Az and the boys to send the creature back to the depths of Hades where it came from, all the while looking 'Cool as Hell' doing it. James Balsamo stars in this horror comedy, featuring a killer punk, hardcore and metal soundtrack, and appearances from genre favorites Tom Savini and Frank Mullen.

You manage to get alot of musicans/genre actor persons in your movies, along with amazing soundtracks. How do you pull this off?

Acid Bath productions is a growing independent film company on the rise. What is great about the horror community is that it is a small knit group and horror fans, much to their credit, try to do whatever they can to help and honor the horror industry. Some artists need more persuading than others. Most of the time I pay them with drugs or sexual favors. When that doesn't work, I kidnap a family member and hold them hostage until they act in the film.

What is the most challenging aspect of filmmaking for you?

Audio. Dealing with live sound in a city environment is a nightmare. You can get a great performance from an actor and then a big truck comes honking down the street ruining the whole take. Silent film makers really didn't know how easy they had it.

What filmmakers/movies inspire you?

I like to say that as a film maker, I was created like Freddy Krueger, in the sense that I'm the bastard son of a hundred maniac film makers. Movies with heart inspire me. It's not the budget that makes a movie great, it's the idea of the movie.

What is your favorite horror movie?

I really couldn't pick a favorite because I watch so many of them. I'm a big fan of 'Burial Ground', which is an 80's Italian zombie film. I really love all of those Italian zombie films.

CGI or practical effects?

I say this all time.... I hate CGI with a passion, only because it dates a film with the quality of the CGI of it's time. It's an art that has yet to be perfected. CGI is constantly changing. Say a company spends millions on CGI and it looks great when the movie comes out. Ten years down the line it looks like an old Nintendo graphic. Just try to compare that to the technology to date. If you have a severed head practical effect, it is on set in front of the camera, and it will always look like a severed head no matter how many years pass. Also, I'm an FX artist myself, so I might be a little bias. I'm not saying there aren't CGI FX that can't look good, I'm just saying I know most of them won't stand the test of time. For me it's practical effects hands down.

You seem to have a close affinity with Troma. How did this come about?

As I said earlier, I was an intern for Troma for about a year. I met alot of cool people and made some great connections. I paid my dues taking out the trash for Troma and now my films sell worldwide. It was a great experience and I recommend it to any young filmmakers looking to get some experience if they are in the New York area.

You have an abundance of T&A in your movies. Does this ever become distracting to you or your crew when filming?

Working with nude actors, we always maintain a professional atmosphere on set. Filming nudity isn't the same as enjoying it in a personal setting. Most of the time, I'm in an uncomfortable position lying on the floor trying to get a good camera angle. The Acid Bath Productions crew only participate in consensual orgies off the clock. Besides, I sleep with most of the nude actresses's before they even get on set! I couldn't let that casting couch go to waste now could I?

In your movies, you seem to take on a lot of roles, such as Director, Actor, Producer, Writer etc. How in the hell do you manage taking on all of these titles, when just one would plunge any mere mortal into fear?

First off, let me say I like the way that question eludes that I'm immortal. In the film industry, it's common knowledge that there are few people that do more than one job. That is not the case for independent film making. There are a few peers of mine that wear as many hats as I do. It mostly stems from having to do everything just because I didn't have the budget to pay other people. I have been making films for over eight years now and have been doing these jobs all along. I have become accustomed to doing almost everything and I honestly just enjoy it. I do have alot of help from my Acid Bath Productions crew, family and friends. I'm so thankful for them, and I couldn't make movies without them.

How do you feel about your movies now they are available for all to see? Have your feelings changed about them as time has gone on?

Having worldwide distribution as a filmmaker is one of the most amazing things in the world. Knowing people enjoy my art is more than I could ask for. I'm making movies that I would want to watch. The fact that I can make bizarre comedy/horror films and people actually enjoy them is the best feeling in the world. It's also a scary thought because I have some messed up things in my head and in my movies.

Any words for your fans?

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @acidbathproduct and pick up a copy of 'Cool as Hell' today, as well as other fine Acid Bath Productions films. Live for cinema, and keep it brutal!

Visit the I Spill your Guts website by clicking HERE.

Visit the Hack Job website by clicking HERE.

You can purchase Cool as Hell from Amazon by clicking HERE.

The "I Spill Your Guts" Plush American Executioner from Acid Bath Productions and Jellykoe.

Acid Bath Productions & Heart Breaking Dawn's present I Spill your Guts Hot Sauce!

Acid Bath Productions & DWN Productions present the official American Executioner replica mask from I Spill Your Guts. You can buy it by clicking HERE.

Here is the VHS artwork for I Spill your Guts.

Many thanks to James Balsamo for taking the time to answer the questions.

Darkest regards......Dani.

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