GRAVEYARD SCHIFF

Tell me about “Tom Savini’s Chill Factor”. ^ It’s sort of a combination of a dream that Tom Savini and I had the first day we met, the technology getting to the point where it’s affordable to do high quality low budget productions and the meeting of five creative minds that put together one awesome piece of entertainment. Thirty years ago, Tom Savini and I met on the set of “Dawn of the Dead” — the first “Dawn of the Dead” — I guess I have to qualify that now (laughs). Tom was doing a stunt and there was no safe way to put a safety net behind him without it being seen in the shot. So, my first job on “Dawn of the Dead” was to be a stunt mat for Tom Savini! He would get hit and hit this springboard and fly in the air and then I would catch him and both of us would fall on the ground and that’s how Tom and I met. Later on that day, we were talking about how cool it would be to not have to leave Pittsburgh and go to Hollywood or New York or Chicago or other cities to do film work — to do what we want to do. It would be great to be able to stay in Pittsburgh. We had that conversation that very first day. Tom and I worked together on “Dawn of the Dead”, “Knightriders”, “Creepshow”, John Harrison’s movie “FX” which is about to be re-released, “Children of the Living Dead”. I directed the screentest for Patty Tallman for Tom’s version of “Night of the Living Dead”. So, Tom and I have worked together since that first day and have been very close friends since that first day thirty years ago. It’s always been a dream of ours to do that. Jeff Monahan and I had met when I came back to Pittsburgh from LA. He was working on a film and I put together the budget for it for him and he and I became very good friends. One day we met at our agent’s, and at the time, I had a little digital video production company with my brother called Schiff Media. I said, “You know what? I got cameras, I got editing. Why don’t we put something together?” And literally, I got back to my office about two hours later and Jeff –and this is the way he works — had sent me ten ideas for shows we could do. And out of all of them, he had a horror anthology series. I thought, “We got George Romero in Pittsburgh, we got Tom Savini in Pittsburgh. We got all this horror heritage. Pittsburgh is really the birthplace of the modern horror film with George’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’.” And I thought, “That’s a natural!” Jeff had been in “Day of the Dead” and “Bruiser”. He had a background in horror, as well. So, we decided to get together with Tom and throw this idea around and it sort of just gelled. Jeff wrote ninety-six different stories and out of them there are about thirty full scripts ready to go. We chose a story called “House Call” to be our first episode because it’s a very textured piece. It’s a period piece and it really shows off what we can do. Jeff and I went around and pitched the show to a variety of people, and we met with Chuck Zvirman and Mark Fallone at New Perspective Productions in Pittsburgh, and they got it immediately. They understood not only how they could fit in, but how Tom and Jeff and I with our combined experience could create one dynamic project. New Perspective is probably the top digital production house in western Pennsylvania. These guys are top line. When I saw their reel, I looked at Jeff Monahan and I said, “These are the guys. These are the ones we have to work with.” We created a partnership a few weeks after that and started pre-production and shot our first episode at the end of last March.

Did Tom Savini jump onboard right away? ^ Because of my relationship with Tom, he appreciated it and respected it. The fact is that Tom gets hit with thirty projects a week, and I would say fifty-nine out of sixty do not happen. So, he takes that stuff with a grain of salt. He has to be a little cautious about things. But all of a sudden when he started seeing the script and when we started talking about what we were going to do and how we were going to shoot it, he got excited. I always said that when Tom and Jeff and I got together for creative meetings it was like three kids in a treehouse making stuff up. Just really exciting and really fun. Once Tom was able to see that it was a real deal and that we had the power of New Perspective, he was totally in to it. We used to talk often, but once we started rockin’ and rollin’ he would call me five or six times a day. He would call me with a new idea on how we were going to do a shot or he would call me with a change to a sequence in the script to make it better or scarier. So, not only was he 100% committed to it, but I think it gave him a charge and a spark that he hasn’t felt in a very long time.

Why did the “Chill Factor” team decide to go with a DVD-only release? ^ The easiest answer to that is because we can. Direct to DVD right now is so affordable. We don’t have to deal with a middle man. We can put it out at a value to our fans and make enough money to do more. We have 96 stories. We’re way open to talking to distributors. I’ve been in conversations with the new Horror Channel and we’re all open to being on television, but it has to be sort of a situation where we don’t have to pull any punches. We have Tom Savini! We don’t want to have to soften up any of the horror or any of the scares. We can get more of that into a DVD than we could on broadcast television.

I’ve checked out the trailer for the first episode on the Net. It looks really slick even on the computer monitor. What format are you shooting on? ^ It’s full digital video. We shot it at 24 frames-per-second an we shot it at the highest resolution you can get before going into High Definition. The key to that also is that we had a great lighting guy. We ran a lot of smoke and really textured it up a lot. We made sure that even the paints that we used on our set would look good on digital video. We ran tests on that and our lighting. We did camera tests under very, very low light situations and we really locked in the settings we wanted. We did our homework and we did our prep. Mark Fallone really gave us one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen shot on a digital video camera.

Coming from the world of traditional shot-on-film productions, have you found that there are any specific advantages or disadvantages to shooting on DV? ^ I’m a traditionalist in many, many ways except for technology. I think that the new digital wave that’s happening right now is just unbelievably great. It gives you the ability to reduce your production cost sometimes by two-thirds. You can by a DV tape for $18 where the same two hours of film which is about 11,000 feet at even a dollar a foot would cost you $11,000. So, you take into consideration the savings and the immediate gratification of being able to roll back and see exactly what you just shot. When you see “House Call” there are moments where we had to do some matched takes. In film, you would have had to have a video-assist camera and you would have had to draw an image on a transparency and then tried to match up the shot to it. It would have taken us hours longer to do it that way. So, for the digital revolution, I’m right in front of it on a white horse with a big sword because I think it’s helping the filmmaker be more creative. It lets the producer like myself have a little relief has far as being able to do higher quality on lower budget.

The interview continues in part three of GRAVEYARD SCHIFF>>>




Posted on September 10, 2004 in Interviews by
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