1) Why South Carolina?
South Carolina is where I happen to be living now, so I might as well take advantage of the location. I made my previous film MIND OF TERROR in Great Bend, Kansas where I was living, but in 2004 I moved to Columbia, South Carolina when I took a job at South Carolina ETV (the public television station here). As soon as I moved here I saw some great locations for another film and they seemed to be perfect for another horror film. The house (which belonged to my wife’s parents), the antique store (which belonged to a friend of the family), and the South in general which has a sense of history and…dare I say, a dark side underneath all of the happy southern hospitality. In 1992 I had made a dramatic/sci-fi student film that was my thesis project for Savannah College of Art & Design called JUDGMENT DAY that was shot on the USS Yorktown at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Charleston, SC, and I always wanted to go back and shoot another film there. So the USS Yorktown became another location for this idea I was developing for a new horror film. But it took 10 years to get from my first ideas to actually making the film, due to various things including work, money, the Great Recession, and life in general.
2) Think you’ll ever do another movie? Or is Public Television enough?
I would love to make another movie. While making EVIL EYE I told myself that I don’t want to make another film like this again – I’m referring to the low-budget (even no-budget) approach where I’m the only crew and I’m paying for it out of my own pocket. I was using my own equipment, which by the time I made EVIL EYE was old. Most of the actors, like my daughter and her friends, were volunteering their time. This is the way I had made my movies before including MINDS OF TERROR, and if I were to make another one I want to have a budget where I could hire a crew, even it was a small crew, get some decent HD equipment, and pay all of the actors, and make a much more commercial film. But with EVIL EYE I realized I had a window of opportunity to make this film…my daughter and her friends were seniors in high school and willing to be in the film, but once they graduated they would be off to college and unavailable. The owner of the antique store was talking about trying to sell, so I was worried I would be losing these great locations if I waited too long. So if I didn’t go ahead and make the film, even in such a low-budget approach as this, it would never be made.
I will say that I have found a new filmmaking career here at ETV, the public television station. During the 10 years I wasn’t able to make the horror film, I ended up making over seven documentaries and winning an Emmy and several Telly awards. And by working as a videographer for dozens of other documentaries I really improved my lighting and camera skills over what I did in MINDS OF TERROR, which really shows in EVIL EYE. So even though I’m not making another movie at the moment, I’m still a busy filmmaker.
3) BEST of ‘The Mark’ ON/OFF set?
Please, just call me ‘Mark’. I almost think this would be a question for my actors, to get their opinions of what I’m like on and off the set. I would say on the set I’m having the most fun in the filmmaking process – at least with narrative films. With documentaries I realized I enjoy the editing process more, because I feel like I make the film come to life in the edit room. Usually I don’t have a clear idea of how things are going to come together while shooting a documentary. But with my narrative films I have it much more pre-planned, scripted and even storyboarded so I know what I want and feel like I’m having it come to life in front of the camera. For the actors making a film can be a long and boring process of “hurry-up-and-wait” for me to set up lights and camera, then shoot and re-shoot things over and over, then wait again as I set up the next shot. So I like to allow for some fun on the set in the form of bloopers. If they start getting the giggles, or mess up and laugh about it, I let them go with it and have some fun. I’m usually not in such a hurry that I have to push them to stop messing around. The one exception I can remember was on MINDS OF TERROR – it was the scene where the three college students arrive to the insane asylum and Vandoren walks out, surprising them. It was the end of the day with the sun setting and we were losing the light fast, but the three students couldn’t stop laughing at Randy when he walked out. So I had to push for them to keep it together and get the shot. Once we got it then I did allow them to film some goofy stuff, even though it was really dark, just so they could have some fun. I want the actors to have some memories of enjoying working on the film.
BEST of OFF set – I would say my best off the set is my patience and perseverance – especially with EVIL EYE. Again, it did take 10 years to get from the first idea of the story to filming…but once we did start I was never sure we would be able to finish. I was hoping to start filming in October of 2013, when my daughter and her friends were seniors in high school. I had to push the start date back to November, but then I fell and fractured my right arm a week before the first shoot. So filming didn’t start until December 30, 2013. What would have been a 2 week commercial shoot ended up being a 30 day shoot spread out over 10 months, until mid-October of 2014. So some months we only shot one day, and most of the time one day of shooting was only an afternoon or an evening on the weekends, whenever we had corresponding free time. So I had to have a lot of patience to basically wait until we could film again, the whole time dealing with things that could have forced me to cancel the film. In the end we finished it, but along the way I kept rewriting and changing some things in order to get it done. However I did have a lot of time in between shoots to sit down and watch footage, work on the script and plan new shoots.
4) WORST of ‘The Mark’ ON/OFF set?
For EVIL EYE the worst of me on the set maybe the fact that I was the only crew, so I became so busy with having to do lights, camera, audio, etc. that I didn’t have as much time for the actors or I missed some details that should or shouldn’t have appeared on camera. Again if I make another film I would love to have an actual crew so I can devote more energy and focus to the actors.
Off set – I’m sure my wife can tell you that when I’m in the editing phase I become very focused on that and don’t want to be disturbed or do anything else, especially when I’m on a roll and things are really coming together. I like to sit and edit for several hours at a time, so having to stop to eat or take out the trash or take the dog out becomes frustrating for me. I guess that’s the price you pay for having to edit at home. When I’m editing my documentaries I can go into ETV and edit at work. But I have to make my narrative films on my own equipment, which means sitting in the living room and dealing with my wife trying to vacuum.
5) One sentence descriptions:
Joe is much more talented than everyone gives him credit for – he was great to have in my film MINDS OF TERROR.
I couldn’t have made EVIL EYE without her because she was a tremendous help in front and behind the camera.
I wish I could have spent more time with him listening to all of his great stories about his experiences on other films.
6) Explain MINDS OF TERROR? ZOMBIEGEDDON? EVIL EYE aka Terror of the Mind’s Eye?
When I first read this question I thought it was like a parent asking their child; “Explain why you flushed your toy down the toilet? What were you thinking?”
MINDS OF TERROR: When I was getting ready to make my 2002 film END OF THE LINE a filmmaker named Chris Watson approached me about helping him make a horror film called MINDS OF TERROR. He had just made a low-budget film called MOB DAZE with Joe Estevez and Robert Z’Dar, and wanted to use them in his new horror film. His original idea was that he would make the main story about a detective (Robert Z’Dar) coming to a psychiatrist (Joe Estevez) investigating a serial killer, and he thinks one of his patients is the killer. So as Joe Estevez talks about each patient you would go to a segment shot and edited by different filmmakers showing each patient’s gruesome story. Chris asked me to make one of those patient’s stories. When he approached me I was beginning to rewrite my script for END OF THE LINE, which was a dramatic/sci-fi story about three men from three different time periods – the past, the present and the future – meeting in the woods…like a Twilight Zone kind of story. The story that took place in the present was the farm segment that is currently in MINDS OF TERROR, and at the time I felt it was too much of a horror film story where the other stories were not, and it was strangely out of place. So I pitched two stories to Chris for MINDS OF TERROR – one was the farm story about a man with amnesia showing up and not sure if the ghosts are real or not. This I would film at a friend’s farm near Smithville, Missouri. The other story was about three college students who end up meeting the lone resident of an abandoned insane asylum, and I would shoot this in Great Bend, Kansas where I lived at the time. Chris loved both ideas and wanted me to make both…but along the way he asked if I could expand the insane asylum story and make it the main segment that would lead to the other stories. The other filmmakers had dropped out, so it was just him and me making the film. I shot and edited my two separate segments (I shot the farm segment with Joe Estevez), but without music, and gave them to Chris. He shot and edited his two segments, the ones with Eric Spudic and Conrad Brooks, and then put everything together and added titles and music. So the majority of it was my film but I didn’t have total control of the final product in many ways.
The weekend I shot my farm segment near Smithville, Missouri Chris Watson was filming his horror film ZOMBIEGEDDON in Parsons, Kansas and had Joe Estevez and Robert Z’Dar in town to act in both films. Chris also asked if I could come to Parsons on the way to Smithville and act in a scene with Robert Z’Dar for ZOMBIEGEDDON where we played detectives who show up at the end investigating the zombie outbreak. The plan was for me to film with Robert Z’Dar for ZOMBIEGEDDON on Friday in Parsons, KS, then I would film with Joe Estevez and Robert at the Smithville, MO farm for MINDS OF TERROR on Saturday, then Joe would film with Chris on Sunday for ZOMBIEGEDDON. Unfortunately Robert Z’Dar missed his flight from Chicago so he and I couldn’t film our scenes until late Saturday morning, which meant my Saturday shoot was pushed back to only the evening which wasn’t enough time to film all Robert and Joe’s scenes. But Robert couldn’t make it to Smithville anyway, so I wrote his character out of the script, and made Joe Estevez the farm owner character that only shows up at the end. I stepped into Joe’s original role of the man Randy Allen’s character meets at the farm who he thinks is the owner. So ZOMBIEGEDDON and the farm segment for MINDS OF TERROR have this close connection for me of happening all on the same, long, surreal weekend. I was only an actor for ZOMBIEGEDDON but spent 24 hours in Parsons, KS experiencing the grueling shoot (they were near the end of their two week shoot and everyone was exhausted and frankly wanted to be done) and then I immediately began my two and a half day shoot for MINDS OF TERROR on the farm.
EVIL EYE aka TERROR OF THE MIND’S EYE:
EVIL EYE went through a lot of different approaches and ideas but always kept the same basic premise: a young woman named Heather comes home after her father has been missing for a year, discovers an old European relic (there was only one originally) that open a doorway to…another dimension/reality/Hell, something is on the loose killing people, her father co-owned an antique store, and the end of the film would take place on the USS Yorktown. I had ideas that it would be a 1 hour narrative film I would make for ETV (in order to be able to use their equipment to make it…that never happened). At one point I was approached by Chris Watson, who was out in Los Angeles, and someone wanted to give us money to make another low budget horror film. So I quickly wrote a script (a little too quickly – it wasn’t very good) but those plans fell through and I never got the money to make it. I spent time trying to rewrite it, then the Great Recession hit and it was almost 10 years until I was ready to make it, even if I was just going to make it by myself. So it’s been a labor of love, I guess.
7) You did lots of extras for MINDS OF TERROR, any for EVIL EYE aka TERROR OF THE MIND’S EYE?
For my previous films I did make extras and interviewed the cast to make a ‘making of’ documentary, but I didn’t really do that for EVIL EYE. The few times I was able to get Morgan and her friends together to film I only had enough time to shoot their scenes, but not for interviews. And never knowing if I would actually be able to finish the film I decided to be a little more low-key with it. But for the cast I did give them a DVD of the rough cut, that had 10 minutes of scenes and footage I cut out of the final version (and a temporary music track), a blooper reel, and a video about a ghost tour of the USS Yorktown. For ETV Morgan and I went with a crew from ETV to stay the night on the USS Yorktown and do a ghost investigation. This was during the production of EVIL EYE, but about two months after we had finished shooting the scenes on the Yorktown for my horror film. The producer edited two segments – one about the history of ghost sightings on the aircraft carrier, and one about our findings. I was the videographer for the shoot, and Morgan went to be an on-camera investigator and we did interviews with her for the stories. I took those two segments and added more footage that I had shot and had it on the cast DVDs. Morgan had seen some things, and I had recorded audio of some strange things and two photos of ghost walking down a hall.
Morgan and I are going to sit down and record interviews of us remembering the filming of EVIL EYE, and I’ll edit it together as a special behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film that will be available on-line.
8) So EVIL EYE had the first cuss word in one of your films? You selling out?
It might have had the first time someone said “F*^K”, but there had been some curse words in previous films. The films I made in Great Bend, Kansas were shown on the college’s cable channel where I worked, and I didn’t feel I could use a lot of really bad cuss words. Now I don’t have to worry about it, although compared to other films EVIL EYE is still very tame in terms of such language. I think I may be a filmmaker of an older generation where I don’t have their characters cussing all the time. But I’m not like that when I’m by myself or with friends – we don’t cuss all the time. When Morgan cussed in EVIL EYE I just felt it was a moment where her character had to tell Jenny to shut up and drive. It was in the script.
9) Fathers Day is coming up also the DVD release of EVIL EYE aka TERROR OF THE MIND’S EYE, opinions about?
I like the fact that it’s being released on father’s day, since the heart of the story of EVIL EYE is the father/daughter relationship. And it’s something special for me, since I made the film with my daughter, Morgan, and it was something we could do together and have it be something special for us.
10) Any last comments for the fans of your films?
Thank you for your interest in my films! When Morgan and I showed EVIL EYE at the 2016 Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival, I was relieved when people in the audience not only liked it but ‘got it’…in many ways EVIL EYE was inspired by the horror films I watched on late night TV when I was a kid – old films from the 70’s and 80’s. Everyone at the film festival picked up on that. It’s nice when someone enjoys your work and feels that kind of connection or kindred spirit.