How far along have you come in the production of the series? ^ “House Call” is our pilot episode. We’re going to see how it runs. We need all the fans out there to buy it so we can do more. Basically, we have everything together with the episode. It’s the behind the scenes stuff . . . We have hours and hours of behind the scenes stuff, as you can imagine, and we had to cut it down to the best of the best, and even that wound up running about thirty minutes. There’s more to the DVD than just the episode, of course.
Will it only be available on the Tom Savini’s Chill Factor Website? ^ At this time, yes, for now.
Do you have any plans to market it through retail outlets in the future? ^ Yes, I’d love to have a conversation with a distributor . . .
If I could backtrack a second with another word about “Why DVD?” . . . Basically, right now you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a DVD player for thirty-nine bucks. And I believe that after Christmas this year, they’ll be down to $22 or $24. So, that means for what it costs you for one month of cheap cable, you can buy a DVD player and there’s going to be enough DVD content out there that you can buy what ever you want. Now, that probably only will last another two or three years because Video-On-Demand is coming along. Then, we will probably be actually beaming Chill Factor into people’s homes. But, for now, cable’s around $69 a month. Satellite is probably $49 to $59 a month. The average person probably only watches two or three of those 300 channels that they get. So, people are taking control of their own programming destiny and as DVDs gt more affordable, I think people will start collecting DVDs the way they collect music CDS.
What can you tell me about “House Call”? When I spoke to Tom, he didn’t want to give away any of the story. ^ Well, I’m not going to give any of it away either! It’s my rule not to give any of it away! I will tell you this much: It’s the story of a mother and a boy during the Depression Era living out at the end of a country road on a dark and stormy night. And the boy has some issues! (laughs) We don’t know what he is. We don’t know what the problem is, whether its in his head or real or what. So, the audience is really treated to some interesting twists and turns.
Will Chill Factor stick to traditional horror themes like vampires, werewolves and ghosts? ^ When you look at the storylines that we have on the website, you’ll see that most of them stick to the traditional horror conventions like vampires and ghosts and supernatural sorts of things. We stick to our roots. That’s where we’re traditionalist.
Is Jeff Monahan writing all of the episodes? ^ Jeff is writing 98% of them so far. I’ve written an episode and I think Tom has an episode. We’d love to ask George Romero if he’d like to contribute an episode or direct. If some of the icons in the industry would like to be involved, we’re really open to it. But for now, that’s pretty much Jeff’s department and he does it so well and so brilliantly that there’s really no reason to look elsewhere.
Will you be taking the director’s chair for any episodes? ^ I’ll probably direct a couple. Jeff will direct a couple. I will probably act in a few. The episode I wrote has roles for Tom, Jeff and me and we would hope that George would want to direct it since we’re all sort of his kids! With ninety-six stories, you never know what could happen. I may act in a few of them. I may direct a few. I love producing and I’m very content at doing that, but if the time comes for me to do some directing and acting, then by all means, I’ll do it.
Is Tom’s make-up school handling the special effects? ^ Yes. Tom, of course, oversees it all, but we had his students working with us on “House Call” and they were absolutely amazing. They were great on the set, and they helped build the set, paint it, prep it. They were an invaluable asset to the shoot.
So, how scary is “House Call” and how does it stack up against some of its influences like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery? ^ It’s very scary. If you could think of the scariest Twilight Zone episode, that’s an episode of Chill Factor. We have the ability to do so much more. We’re not dictated by sponsors. We’re not held back by a studio telling us what needs to be done. It’s “raw Tom Savini.” So, the horror, the chills, the scares are all very poignant. It’s horror to the max. I think horror fans are tired of cheesy, poorly done effects and there’s none of that in Chill Factor.
How do you define your role as a producer? ^ I fall into the category of “hands-on-roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done producers.” I am very hands on. A lot of the things that you’ll see in Chill Factor were a direct result of my efforts. I could sit back and hire people to do the work, but that’s not filmmaking to me. You have to look at my roots. I was running around Pittsburgh at the age of twelve with a Kodak hand-wound Brownie 8mm movie camera making movies. This is something that I’ve been passionate about for over 35 years. To me, producing really means really getting in there and doing it. Surrounding yourself with the best talent you can get, which I did with Chill Factor. I think I have the best of the best in Pittsburgh working for me. And, basically just being the “captain of the ship.” It really comes down to being responsible to your financiers and investors and saying, “I’m going to deliver to you a quality product as close to budget as I can and as close to on time as I can.” I’ve been an actor. I’ve been an assistant director. I’ve been a grip, a gaffer, a camera operator. I’ve been a dolly grip. I’ve been a rigger, a truck driver and production assistant. So, I’ve done all those things and most producers haven’t. I’ve done it all from the bottom up, and I understand it. It also makes me compassionate as producer because I know what it’s like to put in an eighteen hour day in the rain for a slice of pizza.
How has working with George Romero influenced you? ^ I love George Romero. He is my mentor. Every film I ever did with George, I would sit somewhere on the set and watch him work. The man is brilliant at seeing shots. He knows what he needs and he knows how to get it. He doesn’t waste footage on coverage that he knows he doesn’t need. The number-one thing that George taught me was “make it fun.” Have fun on the set. He and I used to laugh a lot together. Even to this day, when we see each other, we do “dueling Brandos.” George taught me that filmmaking doesn’t need to be tense. You don’t need to yell at people. You get out there, you have fun and you deliver a good product. George taught me a lot of things about attitude on a set. He taught me that you have to have a good vision in mind and you follow that vision and you stay focused on it and go for it.
Have you always been a fan of the horror genre? ^ Yes. We used have a show in Pittsburgh called Chiller Theater that was hosted by Bill Cardille –”Chilly Billy Cardilly” — that’s “Chilly Billy” out on the road doing the reports in the original Night of the Living Dead. Bill Cardille is a television icon in the city of Pittsburgh. Those of us who grew up watching TV all have a great deal of respect and reverence for Bill Cardille. Chiiler Theater was so popular that in 1975, when Saturday Night Live came on, it could not pre-empt Chiller Theater. We actually did not get to see the first season of Saturday Night Live in Pittsburgh because Chiller Theater was so popular. So, I grew up watching Chilly Billy and Chiller Theater and watching all these European horror films that I guess were cheaper to get, but in many ways were much more frightening than the American horror films that were being put out at the time. And of course, the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi and all those great films that were done at Universal in the ‘30′s. All that stuff was on Chiller Theater. So, my parents — where were their brains? — were letting their seven-year-old son stay up late and watch these movies. That was my first influence. Movies were always a big thing in my family. My grandmother, every Saturday, took us out to whatever Disney film was playing in Pittsburgh at that time. We would go to downtown Pittsburgh on the bus, go shopping and we would end up at the Warner theater seeing whatever movie was out that week. I saw a movie a week growing up. When I was probably no more than ten years old, my mother decides to take me to the movies and there’s a movie out there that she thinks is about a mother and her child. And she take me to see Rosemary’s Baby! What she didn’t realize is that the child is the son of Satan! So, here she is covering her face because she couldn’t believe she took me to see Rosemary’s Baby which she thought was a sweet little family movie. I loved it! So, here I am at the age of ten. I’ve already been watching Chiller Theater for a couple of years, and now I’m watching Rosemary’s Baby. I still think it’s up there in the top five of the best scary movies ever made.
As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, were you aware of Romero and Night of Living Dead when it was being made? ^ No. I was ten, but what I was aware of was when it was released because everybody was talking about it at my school. We went to see it at the drive-in and it was wild. It was really wild. It was quite an experience!
How did you get involved with the original Dawn of the Dead? ^ I was a theatre major at Point Park College which is really one of the best performing arts colleges in the country. John Amplas, who you may remember from the movie Martin, was doing casting for George for Dawn of the Dead. He came to Point Park and said, “We need somebody to be a zombie and get hit by a truck.” I was the only one who raised my hand. I was saying, “John! Pick me! Pick me!” and I looked around and nobody else was competing! John said, “Marto, you’re the only one standing” and that’s how I ended up in the British Petroleum works with George and Tom. Because of the way Tom and I worked together that day, George Romero asked me to come in to do stunts at the Monroeville Mall where they were doing the mall sequences. He had a sledgehammer bit worked out. He wanted a couple of zombies to get hit with sledgehammers. I said, “Sure, no problem.” So, I went to the mall and got hit with a sledgehammer. Tom was taking off my make up when, over the walkie-talkie, George was asking if I’m still around. Tom said, “Yeah, I have him with me here.” George said, “Get him out of the zombie make up, get him into a leather jacket and send him down here. I need him to be a biker.” So, I put on a leather jacket and a pair of shades and ran downstairs. The motorcycle gang that they had hired — some of them weren’t able to deliver their lines efficiently enough. So, a couple of us guys became bikers and I worked another twenty-five days on the movie that way. The machete chop — it’s my hands holding Lenny Lies head. I throw the first pie in the pie fight. There’s a lot of things that Tom and I and Taso Stavrakis worked out together as far as the bits go with tormenting the zombies. It was really fun.
At what point did you realize that Dawn of the Dead was going to be this huge phenomenon? ^ When we were shooting it, we knew it was going to be something special. Everything was just coming together and George was due and the fanbase was really hungry for another really well-done zombie movie. We knew in the middle of it that it was going to be something great.
Was it as fun as it looks? ^ We had a blast. There’s nothing more fun than riding a Harley Davidson through the Monroeville Mall. Being able to run around the mall, shoot zombies, eat ham sandwiches. . . It was really, really fun. And a lot of the stuff was improv. We would come up with it on the spot. Most of the fight sequences and the killing sequences with the zombies were pretty much impovised with Tom and the crew and Taso and myself.
Do you have a favorite horror film? ^ I would say that the one that consistently scares me is The Exorcist. My favorite is Creepshow, of course, not that I’m a little partial. I think that as far as the horror genre goes, it really says it all. It has every element of horror in it. I think Creepshow is one of the most perfect horror films ever made. It’s really amazing and you see something new every time you watch it.
What goes into a really good horror film? ^ What makes a really good horror film for me is something that sets me up and scares me. That’s what it’s supposed to do. I’ve described producing horror as building a roller coaster because horror films are really an amusement ride. It’s “what’s around the next corner?” It’s “where’s the next bump?” It’s “where’s the next hill that’s going to put your stomach up in your ears?” It’s a roller coaster ride and that’s what it should be. It’s the ups and the downs, the set-ups and the scares. It’s really a lot more than just a lot of blood and guts. We’re doing a lot of horror conventions promoting Tom Savini’s Chill Factor, and when I see some of the young filmmakers who are out there and they all give me their DVDs to look at, and they all ask me my opinion. I have to be flat-out honest with them and tell them that just having somebody vomit blood all over the place is not scary. It’s disgusting, but it’s not scary. It’s really all about the set-up. Horror is almost like comedy in the fact that you don’t get a good laugh unless you get a good set-up for the joke. You don’t get a good scare unless you have a good set-up for the bit. Jeff and Tom and I actually re-enacted a lot of the moments in the script in various coffee houses around Pittsburgh to make sure that they were set-up right. We knew that the scare would be scary. We had Tom Savini as the director, but we wanted to make sure that the script and the timing would be correct. So, what makes a horror film scary is the set-up. And the characters. If you don’t give a damn about the characters then you won’t give a damn if they get an axe put through their head.
That was one of my complaints about the new Dawn of the Dead. ^ Exactly! In the new Dawn of the Dead, who cared about the characters? There were some wonderful things about it. But, if you think about the original, you really loved Flyboy (David Emge) and Scotty (Reiniger) and Ken (Foree). You really had a feeling for those people. In the new Dawn, they didn’t work much on the character relationships and I think that was proabaly a directorial choice. You really didn’y worry too much about any of those characters. You have to like the characters. There has to be character development. There has to be character relationships. The characters need to have things like objectives . . . and you have to have all the things that it takes to make a traditional movie good. If you don’t have those, you’re just not going to have a quality piece — it’s not going to happen.
Has there been a shift in the fanbase for horror films? Is the audience still there for real horror? ^ I think the fact that Dawn of the Dead 2004 opened at $55 million it first weekend shows something about the fanbase. The fact that that film did so well and that Freddy vs. Jason did so well, I think that there’s a very strong fanbase out there and I think it’s going more and more international. I think that the horror fanbase is as strong now as it ever was. I went to a Who concert one time in New York and there was a bunch of fifty-year-old guys with their twelve-year kids going, “Yeah! Rock ‘n’ Roll!” Music is crossing over generations now and so are horror films. I have guys who come up to me who say, “The very first horror film I ever saw was Creepshow. I loved you guys in it. This is my son, Jimmy. Can you give him an autograph?” So, we’re getting sort of a cross generation. Whereas, in my life, my parents might never have watched Friday the 13th, but they certainly introduced me to things like Dracula and Frankenstein and, of course, Rosemary’s Baby! The horror genre, and maybe just films in general, more than any other form of entertainment are handed down generation to generation. So, it’s real interesting to see parents bringing their kids up to us and asking us for autographs. The genre is sort of breeding on itself. In the 1960′s, you had a very limited horror genre. Now, it’s exploded on to the marketplace and there’s so much more variety. It’s really a genre that has so many facets to it. I think the fanbase is broadening and broadening.
How important is interaction with the fans? ^ When I was an actor and fans would recognize me on the street, I always shook a hand and I always gave an autograph because I really believe that without the fans, where are you? I love our fans. There were a couple of guys that flew from Germany to meet Tom and I at a convention because Creepshow was their favorite movie and they loved the garbage men. These guys flew in from Germany! What am I going to do? Say, “I’m sorry. I don’t have time to talk to you?” No! These guys invested money and time to come see us and consequently, we took the time to talk to them for as long as they wanted. I love my fans and Tom does too. Tom is very gracious to his fans. He never says no to a photograph. He does not charge for an autograph. If you bring something of yours for him to sign, he doesn’t charge for it. Tom is very gracious, and I must admit that I’ve learned from him on that front. I don’t charge for autographs, either. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you for being out there and thank you for supporting us.”
What’s wrong with the horror genre and how can it be fixed? ^ We need to get back to storyline. We need to get back to plot. We need to get back to character relationships. We need to get back to the basics of filmmkaing that made horror great in the heyday of Universal. We can’t just go from kill to kill to kill because audiences are desensitized to that. It needs to have a story. We need to look at the actual plot. And directors need to take the responsibilty to know what it means to direct an actor. They can’t just worry about the blood and the guts. They have to understand that there has to be a set up in horror. Those are the things that we have to get back to. Not to mention just basic, good-old-fashioned filmmaking where you have good lighting, you’re aware of where your shadows are, you’re aware of composition, you’re aware of all those things that good filmmaking really, really involves. Young filmmakers today say, “Ahh, we don’t need that. We’ve got someone’s head blowing up in the next sequence.” Well, you do need that because audiences are much more sophisticated today than they were 20 years ago and they just won’t accept that.
For updates, check the Chill Factor website.
Posted on September 10, 2004 in Interviews by William J. Wright
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