Chilling Out

Chilling Out

Cortney Palm


Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Cortney Palm, an actress who has appeared in films like “Zombeavers,” “Death House,” and “Sushi Girl.” And although she enjoys the genre just as much as the rest of us, it is a different type of film, those that have something meaningful to say about humanity and our world, that she is most drawn to these days.

We sat down with Palm to talk about her particular set of (police) skills, how she got her start in horror, and what type of movie she would make today if she were given a cool 20 million to spend.

TrunkSpace: We read that there was a time when you actually stepped away from acting for awhile, but it ultimately pulled you back?
Palm: Kind of. It’s sort of a long story. I started when I was younger and I was doing things in Colorado… beauty pageants and shit like that. And then I went to California to get my undergrad, so I started acting then, but I never really fully went away from it. I got my master’s while I was filming “Zombeavers.” It was an online school, so I never really stepped away. I just sort of fell off the map a little bit. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Your focus in school wasn’t entirely acting though, correct?
Palm: My undergrad was in theater and then I decided, “Well, I need something more substantial than that. This business is kind of difficult financially and I’m going to be a cop.” So, I was like, “Okay, as a cop, what can I do?” So I got my master’s in forensic psychology so that I could actually help implement change in the police departments because I felt like there were a lot of ways that could be fixed in terms of the academy and how the officers are trained and internally how they could work with criminal offenders in the justice system. So that’s what I was going to start doing and instead I booked like seven films the following year and I just got swamped.

I actually applied for Santa Monica PD and I went all the way through backgrounds. I was one of the top candidates in the agility course. I made it all the way to backgrounds and was about to have my Chief’s interview and they were like, “Sooooo… you were naked in movies. How is that going to affect you when you’re in court?” And I was just like, “It’s not.” But, basically I think that’s the reason why I got denied. I was like, you know what, fuck it. I’m done. I don’t care about the police department anymore and I’m moving on.

TrunkSpace: Having that police-based skill set must also be beneficial when navigating the Hollywood landscape, particularly on the psychology side of things.
Palm: Oh yeah. Definitely. It’s an asset for sure. Not only for dealing with people and being more comfortable in front of people, but also for stunts. I remember we were filming “Death House” and my costar Cody Longo and I were just clueless how to hold a gun and our flashlight at the same time. We were like, “What are we doing?” (Laughter) The following day we actually had some training.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared in a number of horror and genre movies. Was that always the intention in terms of the types of projects you wanted to be involved in?
Palm: I’ve always loved horror. Not necessarily the gritty kind of grindhouse kind of horror. I really liked “Mirrors” and “The Descent” and “Child’s Play,” even though that is kind of genre. “Gremlins” and things like that.

TrunkSpace: “The Descent” is a great horror movie in that the fears exist on multiple layers. Not only are there creatures involved, but there’s this claustrophobic feeling to the film that rubs off on the viewers.
Palm: Oh, it’s so well done. Their fear feels so real. Yeah, the fact that they can’t get out of the space because they’re stuck in it… it definitely freaks you out. I’ve just always loved horror films like that.

I was actually in college and my friend’s bed kept getting wet and nobody knew what was going on. So then we went to the movies and we watched “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and then we came back and her bed was wet again. We’re like, “What the hell is going on!?!?” So then I got on her bed and I started acting possessed, like I was Emily Rose. I was really into it. And so they called the school pastor and the RAs and called the cops. I was like, “What the fuck you guys? I’m just kidding around! I’m just acting!” Needless to say, I no longer roomed with them after that.

So yeah, I’ve always been drawn into that, but I think that when you’re new to Hollywood you don’t really have a lot of direction. I didn’t have a lot of direction. I didn’t have a manager or a publicist to sort of help me head in the right direction. I just answered a lot of Craigslist ads and that’s how I got into the horror industry. Those are the ones that are like, “Willing to get naked or topless and covered in blood and prosthetics.” Things like that. I was like, “Sure, I’ll do it.” That’s, I think, where I got sort of pigeonholed in that regard.

TrunkSpace: It is a genre that seems to not always be willing to let people out once they’re in. Do you take that into consideration now when you’re choosing projects to work on?
Palm: Yeah, you do get pigeonholed and everyone sort of recognizes you as, “Oh, she’s a genre actor.” I think that really sort of stunted me in terms of growing in the television world. I don’t think that casting has an imagination that can see past that. No ill offense to anybody in casting, but it’s sort of true. They don’t have that ability to see that you can do TV and it’s unfortunate because you can be a solid indie actress or actor and you can be carrying a whole move. And what they don’t see is that in indie films, you’re also your own stunt double, your own stand-in, and you’re sort of wearing multiple hats when you’re doing these films. You’re more than capable at that point to carry a TV show. It’s just a matter of fan base and when you don’t have the fan base that’s more mainstream, you’re unfortunately going to miss out on those other opportunities.

TrunkSpace: We actually spoke with someone recently who was told that someone got a part over them because that other actor had more Twitter followers. While the industry has never been about talent alone, that does seem like a big leap to now no longer get parts based on your social media presence.
Palm: Right. To be honest, and this is sort of… whatever, I don’t care that I’m giving this away. I remember one of my costars from “Zombeavers.” We were like, “Why the fuck did this person get cast? We don’t understand.” And they were like, “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” It was only because of what they brought to the table beforehand with followers and previous awards. It had nothing to do with film and they had no idea what they were doing in the movie. It was sort of frustrating for all of us, veterans sort of, who had been there for awhile. It was just like, “Okay, that’s what this has come down to.” It’s frustrating and it’s annoying and you can whine and bitch and say that it’s not fair, but in the end, everyone deserves a chance, so you’ve just got to allow that to happen for them.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like Hollywood is hedging their bets now more than ever, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in movie theaters where everything is based on some sort of preexisting material these days. There’s not a lot of original ideas in the current climate of things.
Palm: The original ideas don’t get picked up and there’s some great movies that I’ve been a part of that no one will ever hear of. They’ve been inventive and new. And my character has been fully-clothed! And they’re really thought-provoking. No one wants to buy that because it’s not selling right now. What’s selling is horror and children stories/animation and of course romance always does, but it’s these superhero movies that are getting people wanting to feel like there is something more to their lives. You can either be a superhero or rely on superheroes to save the world and change the world.

TrunkSpace: It does feel like escapism due to the current state of things. You can watch the news, be totally turned off by the world around you, and then put on a superhero movie and just escape in that and feel a sort of hope for a better tomorrow.
Palm: I agree. There’s a lot of times that I’m sitting down in front of the TV and looking for a movie. “Oh, that’s too much. That’s too sensitive for me right now. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to laugh. I just want to see Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane. Cool. Let me just lose some IQ points and pretend I’m going to save the world.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Being in indie films must also be a bit frustrating because a lot of times they sort of linger after the shoot and don’t see the light of a day for a long time. We’re sure a lot of that is financial, but it must be hard after you put all of yourself into something and then don’t see the final result for years or sometimes not at all.
Palm: Oh, definitely. There’s this independent film I did called “Tourbillon” and it took a while for it to get anywhere. It does come down to finances and even now, if you try to submit to festivals, they’re very picky about what kind of theme or genre they’re going to accept for that year. And not only that, the money just really isn’t falling into your lap. A lot of these festivals say that they’re independent films, but these films really still have four million dollar budgets! Some of these movies that I’m doing are passion projects that I think are beautiful stories and there’s no budget. There’s nothing there and it’s sad because these people are really talented and you really want to see it go somewhere.

You just get to really bond with everybody and it’s nice because it’s small, comfortable, and everyone is really there to make art. It’s not a job or a paycheck. I mean, especially in indie film, it’s NOT a paycheck. It’s just a good experience.

TrunkSpace: So if someone came along and gave you 20 million dollars tomorrow to produce your own starring vehicle, what type of project would you develop for yourself?
Palm: A few years ago myself would say something like “Underworld” or “Resident Evil” or “Tomb Raider.” Something like that. And I would use practical effects and stages. I have a theater background so I would prefer to use a soundstage. I don’t want to waste materials though, so if we had the opportunity to go out on location, that’s great, but I don’t want any green screens or a lot of CGI. I’d like to do mostly everything with practical effects. And with that kind of a budget, you’re allowed that opportunity to play more with the practical effects and your props and things like that, which I really like. So, that’s my old self. I mean, I still kind of want that. I really like that superhero… the femme fatale, the woman who is in charge and on top and can do all of her own stunts and really cool scenes like that.

But, myself right now? I’m vibing more towards something that would be more profound in a way that’s more enlightening for humanity. I would like to make something very beautiful… something along the lines of “Moonlight” where it touches on a subject that people are sort of closed off too. I would really like to do something that represents unity and compassion for all earthlings, in a way that’s sort of on an indie scale.

TrunkSpace: And going back to what we were talking about, those are the films that are unfortunately not made enough these days. Or if they are, they don’t get the attention.
Palm: They don’t get the attention. Definitely not. But they will touch those few people that actually watch it and that’s what I want. My “Female Fight Club” costar and I, Amy Johnston, we made a video that represents unity and how we are literally all made of the same elements. The same five major elements that our bodies are made up of, is what the earth is made up of. It’s the elements that are in the universe and it’s such a beautiful thing to know that we’re all connected. It doesn’t just stem to humans. It’s plants and animals as well. I feel like we’ve all lost that. We can see it in the animated films like Disney movies and things like that, but I think we’ve just lost that sense, you know? It’s all about instant gratification and “me” and “how can I get on top” and “who can I step on to get there.” I just really want to make a movie that can inspire people to better understand a collective conscious thinking and an enlightened way of life.

TrunkSpace: You are someone who is not afraid to speak her views and opinions on things, whether it’s here with us or on social media. That being said, it seems like a rough time to do that because of how divided everybody is and how willing people are to jump on others for speaking their mind. Is it scarier to express yourself these days with that in mind?
Palm: It’s an interesting thought process that you have because I totally see where you’re coming from, but from my perspective, I’ve been that way since I was young. I’ve always been outspoken. I’ve always stood up for the underdog. I’ve always tried to promote unity. I’ve always been that way since I was a kid.

Palm’s latest movie, “The Dark Tapes” is available now on video on demand.

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Chilling Out

The Dark Tapes’ Michael McQuown


Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Michael McQuown, writer, producer, and director of “The Dark Tapes,” a found footage horror/sci-fi mashup that has been scaring up fans on the festival circuit.

We sat down with McQuown to talk about the film’s extended shelf life, stolen furniture, and how the plot all came together in the final hour of production.

TrunkSpace: Horror seems like one of the few genres where you can still build a decent audience by word of mouth alone. From your perspective, is marketing a horror movie different than another genre?
McQuown: Well, I would say yes because the horror people seem to be quite fanatical. They watch everything they can get their hands on. That’s why there’s so much bad horror made because they might have one good gory scene in it and the horror fans will still gobble it up. So you do have a fair amount of genre content being done for a low amount of money because they just know they can make a profit on it and turn it around. Hopefully… hopefully we try to go for something better than that, but people have their own particular tastes.

TrunkSpace: Since the film’s release, what has brought it the most amount of attention and put it on people’s radars?
McQuown: The first festival we got accepted into was the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. That was last April. A few reviews came out of that, I think six of seven, and all but one was positive, and there were some tech issues still to fix on the film. I submitted to a bunch of other festivals too and then we started winning five awards and then 10 awards and then 20 awards. I tried to make as many festivals as I could and I talked to a couple of the festival directors and they were just like, “We really, really love you film.” And I’m like, “Are you sure?” I’m it’s own biggest critic since I know it so well. And they were like, “Trust us… we got X number hundreds of submissions and yours is right there on the top.” And then actually we got into some non-genre film festivals and surprisingly the couple that I attended there, the audience members were actually even more inquisitive than the genre people. They were like, “We normally would never even see a horror film, but we really liked it.” And then the people would quiz me for a half hour or 45 minutes on stuff. So, hopefully it struck a nerve. Now we’re up to 61 awards and nominations, so there definitely seems to be an audience for it. I think that’s spread over 30 festivals and competitions… the 61 awards are. And we’re up to about 50 reviews and all but two are positive, so it seems to be striking a chord with people.

TrunkSpace: Another thing about the horror genre that doesn’t seem to apply to other genres is that it has a longer shelf life. Have you found that to be the case as you’re out supporting “The Dark Tapes?”
McQuown: Yeah. Maybe a model on this is… with a much larger budget, don’t get me wrong… but “The Taking of Deborah Logan.” I’ve checked out its IMDB rankings in the past year and you can see it just had a very long, slow fade from its initial VOD release. That definitely sort of became a word of mouth movie and then it got put on all these top movies of the year lists. So, hopefully that’s the case. We’re with Epic Pictures, just for the U.S., and they do have experience in genre stuff. But, still, we didn’t open in 30 theaters and have all of the reviewers from all those cities reviewing it, so we’re still working diligently on the marketing.

TrunkSpace: You spent many years working on the film. Was there ever a point where you thought it would never get finished?
McQuown: Well, I thought up the idea, basically… and I have said this in other forums… I saw “V/H/S.” One of the producers is a big horror fan and said, “Hey, you should check out ‘V/H/S.’” And actually a couple of weeks before that, the same producer said, “Hey, check out ‘The Pact.’” And I watched that and I thought it was a good movie. I researched it and I was like, “How come I didn’t hear about that?” It was straight to VOD. So I did some research and I found out that the VOD market was something that you could at least break even or make a profit on if you do a quality product and horror was the biggest genre in that market. And then when I saw “V/H/S,” a light went off and I went, “Hey, that’s what I’m going to shoot… a found footage anthology.” The thinking was, if we mess up the first story, we can go back and reshoot it and not have to reshoot a whole feature. (Laughter) And I knew my production costs would be lower, etc. etc. etc. And then when I saw “V/H/S,” I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how most found footage films should be done.” They should be done as like a mini feature because a lot of them just have the same problem where you’re sitting through the first 40 to 60 minutes with not much happening.

And so we shot “The Hunters & The Hunted,” the first full segment that you see in the film, in October 2013. And the idea was to shoot two other segments and one thing I’ve learned being an entrepreneur is that things always take three times longer and cost three times as much and delays are inevitable. And the delay that we had there… we had a great location and the idea was to rent a place at Airbnb and live at it… myself and the two producers who are also the primary crew members… and we would shoot there as well. So we rented a place and when we showed up, the furniture was gone. And we’re like, “What?!?!” The guy who presented himself as the owner was actually sub-leasing it/renting it on Airbnb and he just decided to steal all of the furniture. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Yikes. You can’t plan for something like that!
McQuown: Yeah. It took me about 10 days to find another location that we could live and shoot at. It was in LA so a lot of the owners were like, “Oh yeah, you can do it for $6,000.” I was like, “Well, we might only spend that much on the whole thing.” (Laughter) So, we were only able to do one segment and the two producers, who are British friends and flew out from London, went back. I then went back to Miami and then came out to LA and delayed everything for a year because I had some opportunities to make some more money. So in 2014 nothing was done. And then in 2015 we shot the four stories, one of which is not in the film, but it will be in the DVD as an extra bonus. And it’s not because of the quality or anything like that. I just realized as I was editing that it would push it towards two hours and I felt it would be a stronger film if it was under 100 minutes.

TrunkSpace: That also makes it interesting for people who have already seen the film to give it a second look.
McQuown: Exactly. Right now for people who pre-order and send us a screenshot of their iTunes pre-order, we’ll send them a screener link to the extra story in the summer when I finish editing it.

TrunkSpace: You wore pretty much every conceivable hat in the production of the film. What for you was the most difficult to manage while juggling all of the other duties you had at the same time?
McQuown: I can say the one that is the most time consuming and cumbersome and least creative would be casting. We used a casting director and now I can see the value of a casting director… just in the amount of time you’ll save. The casting director did cast four of the roles. Vincent Guastini, who did the practical effects and directed “To Catch A Demon”… he brought in Cortney Palm. But the rest of the roles, which was like over a dozen, we cast ourselves. We put ads in the right websites and trades in LA and we had probably 3,000 to 4,000 submit. So, that means I got to look through 3,000 to 4,000 headshots online, organize them into the right character, tag them as not good if it’s based on appearance, and now you’re down to 1,000 or 2,000, which I gave to the two producers. They then watched the tapes on the people… 1,000 to 2,000 people. (Laughter) And that got us down to a few hundred people that we scheduled for auditions. And then you’ve got to schedule them, which is a whole cumbersome process because you don’t want people all showing up at once. And then we had to actually book the audition space and go there and set up. It ends up being… that was probably 100 to 200 hours of work between three people to do all of that. So now I certainly see the advantage of the casting director. He already knows who is going to work for that rate that’s up and coming. The people that he brought in all had serious independent film credits. Some had supporting roles for studio stuff. Brittany Underwood was the lead in a Nickelodeon series and she was a well known soap actress for some years. He already knows those people, so for him, it’s probably two hours of work per role. (Laughter) Whereas if you’re going to do it from scratch, it’s 20 hours of work per role.

But I’m perfectly content and happy with the cast. They did a great job. And we got Emilia Ares Zoryan, who is the lead in the wraparound story from “V/H/S Viral,” through our own auditions, so we ended up getting people who had significant credits even through the open casting that we were doing.

I did have something that did help. I did mention that I was the original writer of “The Perfect Man,” which was a romantic comedy that Universal Studios made starring Hilary Duff, which is exactly the type of move that I would never make. (Laughter) I happened to know the person the true story was based on and I thought it would be an easy script sale. And it was. So, I would mention that in the casting listings, so I’m sure that helped us bump up interest a little bit.

But again, the cast was great. We gave them instructions to act very naturalistic because of the found footage nature of the film. And a little interesting note is, in “The Hunters & The Hunted”… because we had the delay with finding the location… that script was really only half done. About half of that was improv. Anytime that the ghost hunters are doing their research, that was all improv. I just told them to watch “Ghost Adventures” and other ghost hunting shows and then we bought actual ghost hunting equipment and the crew and I just hid in a room downstairs. There was one room that never got seen and we’d all just hide there. And it was just like, “Okay… do your thing for an hour.” They had the camera, we had them mic’d up with lavaliers and they just did a bunch of improv.

TrunkSpace: It sounds like the horror version of “Curb your Enthusiasm.”
McQuown: There you go! Exactly. But, it came out really well. And in the DVD we’ll be making an extended version of these scenes we cut out for running time purpose.

TrunkSpace: Some of the best cinematic moments come out of a those moments where an idea or an effect isn’t working and it forces filmmakers to think on their toes and outside the box. Did “The Dark Tapes” have one of those moments?
McQuown: Oh yeah. Absolutely. The demon in “To Catch A Demon” was originally supposed to be on wires and crawling up the wall and crawling on the ceiling and stuff like that. And myself as a first time producer, we had a stunt coordinator bring his whole wire set gear… someone who Vincent Guastini knew… and my fault, I did not have him come to the location to confirm that he could set up all of his wires, which he wasn’t able to because it wasn’t strong enough… the things for him to connect to. So, when we had the whole battle scene at the end with the demon and in other times where you see the demon, he wasn’t supposed to be standing like a person. If he was going to stand like a person, we would have had a different type of practical effect. So, I had to edit around that and the fight scene at the end just wasn’t quite working from what we had shot. He looked too much like a person in a practical effects outfit, which again, he wasn’t supposed to be standing. My fault for not consulting with the stunt coordinator. So we had an extra day of reshooting where we were going to reshoot some of the fight scene and literally with about an hour left to shoot… it just all of a sudden occurred to me that we should have the professor and Cortney Palm’s character Nicole be in multiple, we called it, time dilations, as if they were multiple universes simultaneously with multiple outcomes. I told Vincent, the director, I said, “Yeah… let’s just shoot some scenes of him saying that because then I can go more normal narrative crazy jump cut editing. I can edit anything and anywhere and I’ll make the fight work.” We had bits and pieces of the fight that worked fine, but because of the found nature of the film, you have no cutaways. So, you’re editing choices are very limited. And so literally, it was a very important plot point where he says, “Oh, we’re in multiple time dalations,” and then I realized that “To Catch A Demon” was actually going to be a standalone story. And as I was editing, I was like, “To Catch A Demon” should be the wraparound story, but, “How do I tie it in to the other stories?” At that point I had a way to tie it into “The Hunters & The Hunted” and I had a way to tie it into “Cam Girls,” but I didn’t have a way a way to tie it into “Amanda’s Revenge.” So, again this was all done in the last hour of shooting on one day of reshoots… I pulled David Rountree the actor aside and said, “You’re stuck in multiple time dilations and you’re going to say something worse is coming because you turned on the machine.” And the something worse that are coming are the aliens/demons, whatever you want to think they are, in “Amanda’s Revenge.” And then if you notice the time dates of the stories, that’s why I made “To Catch A Demon” a few years earlier, so then that way the “whatever” that’s coming… it took them time to get here through space because they got the signal from the machine. So, that entire very important plot turn… plot twist… was literally thought up in the last hour of the reshoot to fix the fight scene.

TrunkSpace: So having learned a lot of these first time producer lessons on the fly, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
McQuown: If I was advising any other filmmakers or people who want to become filmmakers, if you’re going to do it for zero budget… or as I like to say, this film is a negative budget movie because it comes out of my pocket… you’re going to have things come up. If you have skill sets as a good entrepreneur in crisis management… you’ve got to think on your feet and make lemon out of lemonade when it happens. And that’s what happened. We had a fight scene that needed improvement and it led to a critical plot change. We didn’t have time to shoot the wraparound story and instead it became the bookend story, which lead to the “To Catch A Demon” becoming the wraparound story, which ended up tying all of the stuff together better.

Learn more about “The Dark Tapes” here.

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Chilling Out

Paul T. Taylor


Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Paul T. Taylor who is stepping into some very big leather shoes as the iconic character Pinhead in the upcoming “Hellraiser: Judgment.” Taylor knows he faces an uphill battle with diehard fans of the franchise because he himself is one, a fact that is not shared but heard in the excitement in his voice. (He also owns all of the “Hellraiser” action figures and took one to his audition, so his fanboy status is not in question.)

We sat down with Taylor to talk about playing a horror icon, his dreams for becoming the next Bela Lugosi and how being creepy is good for his career.

TrunkSpace: The internet can be a scarier place than the worlds created in horror movies. Were you at any point worried about what the reaction would be from fans of the franchise in terms of accepting someone other than Doug Bradley in the role of Pinhead?
Taylor: Oh yeah. I was warned from the very beginning about that. My first meeting with Gary J. Tunnicliffe, the director, when I went out to LA to get my head cast done so they could do the makeup… or actually maybe it was a conversation over the phone even before that… he said he had my back and that he was on my side, but he did warn me that the hardcore fans were going to be brutal. So, I went into it with open eyes and an open mind. I’m not afraid of anybody. I mean, it’s just words and, you know, words can hurt, sure. If they see the film and they don’t like me as Pinhead, that’s their prerogative to spew hate, but really, every actor is different. As much as I’m going to try to do sort of an homage to Doug Bradley’s Pinhead and “Hellraiser’s” history, this is a new film and I’m a different actor. I can’t be Doug Bradley. Hopefully I bring myself to it and people like what they see. I just hope that I’m appreciated in the role for the work I did do. I really, truly believe that more than one actor can play one role… in any case. There are so many actors and so many talented actors, it’s silly to think that only one person could play the Frankenstein’s monster, for example. Look how many people played him. So, yeah… people are entitled to their opinions, but I’m not worried.

TrunkSpace: It does seem that Pinhead hit and resonated at a time when there were iconic horror characters that were specific to a specific name as opposed to Frankenstein’s monster or the Wolfman, for example. Freddy. Jason. Michael Myers. With those characters, including Pinhead, it seems that fans are more attached to their origins.
Taylor: Yeah. And that makes sense. I guess part of the reason Frankenstein and Dracula and all of those… these were great works of literature. Of course, in my opinion, so is “The Hellbound Heart,” which “Hellraiser” is based on. I think it’s just freakin’ brilliant. But, maybe that had something to do with it. This was most people’s first exposure to these particular characters. Most people had not read “The Hellbound Heart” when the movie was produced. It was a totally different time period and it was also when horror… fantasy horror of this type like “Hellraiser” and “Friday the 13th” and of course “A Nightmare on Elm Street”… and even “Halloween” to a certain extent because it was supernatural. I think it was the whole genre of fantasy horror and these wildly original character with this crazy, brilliant make-up design. I think it was different in that regard. It was just a different time period and horror became more sophisticated when this came out. And now it’s even more sophisticated than that. It’s like, what really scares you? It’s hard to get scared these days and so many of these characters, later in their lives of doing sequels and stuff, sometimes they become a parody of themselves and that’s when, I think, they sort of die and people get tired of the franchise. I’m hoping that this particular 10th film on the 30th anniversary year of the original “Hellraiser”… I’m hoping that it brings back some of that original Clive Barker flavor. I really think the script does. I just have a lot of hope for it.

I’m more excited about people who DO like me as Pinhead than I am worried about people who don’t like me as Pinhead.

TrunkSpace: Some fans who have been following the franchise for decades may never accept a new actor in the role of Pinhead, but does this chapter offer NEW fans, those unfamiliar with the franchise, an easy jump on point?
Taylor: I think so. Some people may not understand exactly who Pinhead is. They may want to go back and look at “Hellraiser” 1, 2 and 3… maybe even 4… and see some of the history. But, at the same time, it is a new chapter. It’s an unexplored part of Hell, I would say, introducing some new characters and some new mechanisms behind where Pinhead and all of that comes from. And, it’s also a jumping off point for a sequel following this one that could continue the story that it tells because it’s a true “Hellraiser” script with a beginning, a middle, and a sort of ambiguous end. And these new characters they introduced could be in future “Hellraiser” films. I can’t talk about them. I’m not supposed to because that would be giving spoilers away. But, I think people are going to be fascinated with it and the gore elements that we get from like the “Saw” movies and the things that are total, what I would say, on the border of horror porn, there’s some elements of that in it and that will please many “Hellraiser” fans and many fans of just what contemporary horror can be these days where it’s just a gross-out.

TrunkSpace: Like you said, this is the 30th anniversary year of the first film. Technology has changed a lot since the original and those advancements bring a heightened realism element to those gross-out moments.
Taylor: Exactly. “Judgment” is using, of course, real effects, but also there is a possibility of using CGI. I don’t know how much CGI is used in this. I only know that where I shot, we used real effects, which I was really happy about because, I mean, you go back to the first few “Hellraiser” movies and that’s all real effects. It’s like REALLY well done.

TrunkSpace: And that stuff always stands the test of time. As CGI advances, the CGI that came before never really holds up to what the CGI of the present looks like.
Taylor: Yeah. CGI is so brilliant now. They could do the whole film in CGI and make it look real, but that takes quite a budget. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that stuff, really. But, I prefer real effects over anything. If you can make that stuff look real… there you go.

TrunkSpace: Those real effects are the ones that always stay with you. The scene in “The Howling,” for example, where Karen transforms on-camera. Those are the visuals you remember.
Taylor: Oh my God! Yeah! And also, “An American Werewolf in London.” I mean, granted there was some CGI to connect the dots, but I think that it was just cutaway and new model, cutaway and new model. The workings of it were so brilliant. Just like the workings of the transformation of the original “Hellraiser” film when the blood first goes under the floor in the attic and they went and added to the budget so they could do that transformation. And it’s all real effects and it’s so good. It’s just so gross and wonderful. I loved it.

TrunkSpace: So if the opportunity presented itself where you could don the leather and pins for as many films as Doug did, would you welcome that?
Taylor: Oh yeah! Of course! Yes! I would love to play Pinhead again. That’s sort of my mantra. “I will play Pinhead again. I will play Pinhead again. I will play Pinhead again.” (Laughter) All I can do is what I can do to try to make that happen for myself and for the franchise. I don’t know if Doug wants to play Pinhead anymore. I think probably if it was a big budget reboot of the film and Clive Barker was involved and all of that, I would guess he would say yes to that. And of course the fans would lose it… lose their shit. He’s basically a god among the fans. But, my dream is… I would love to play Pinhead again. This opportunity came along and it was totally unexpected. Here I am suddenly portraying my favorite horror icon of all time. I’ve been working as a professional actor for 35 years. It’s not like it’s an overnight thing. I earned it in a way, but it was still a surprise!

And, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, it’s not just Pinhead that I want to play. I mean, I want to… who’s to say that the Bela Lugosi, or the Boris Karloff or the Christopher Lee kind of thing couldn’t happen for an actor these days? Those actors played more than Frankenstein, played more than Dracula. You know, Christopher Lee… I don’t even know how many characters he played. A horror actor’s career should be more than one character and if there are other icons that someone wants me to play… Freddy Krueger, hint, hint… sure! It’s not like I would say no to that. Again though, this is BIG dreams, but I believe in big dreams. If you can’t dream it, it’s not gonna happen. If you can’t believe that the possibility is there, it’s not gonna happen. So, I’m all for playing Pinhead again and I’m all for playing anything that anyone wants me to give a go. I’m a scary/funny guy, Pinhead’s not funny… depending on what film you see, but I don’t think Pinhead should be funny. Personally. And yet, Freddy Krueger? Scary and funny! So, I’m thinking, “Big shoes to fill, but why not?” (Laughter) We’ll see. Whatever. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can only hope and try to put it out there in the universe and see what happens.

TrunkSpace: You seem like someone who genuinely loves the genre, so, knowing you’re currently a Texas guy… is being cast as Pinhead kind of like being a Dallas Cowboys fan and getting drafted by the team?
Taylor: (Laughter) Yeah! That’s it! I mean, I grew up in the middle of Kansas, which is a crazy place for a person like me to grow up because I’m… I’m kind of a freak. I’ve always liked horror and as a kid if I could have had Halloween all year long, I would have. It was my favorite time of the year just because I loved to be grotesque, scary and unrecognizable. That’s my favorite kind of disguise. There’s a certain power behind that. I just get off on it. I don’t know why. Just being scary because in real life, I’m really not much of a scary person. Some people think I’m creepy, but that’s great. That’s good for my career.

TrunkSpace: A lot of actors talk about how sitting in the makeup chair for extended periods of time can be a headache, but at the same time, when you’re playing someone like Pinhead… being able to see yourself in the mirror as the character must put you right in the mindset to jump into a scene and work.
Taylor: It really does. Of course I had seen all of the “Hellraiser” films and I had been working this thing for a couple of months before we shot it… Gary had already said that the first day that Doug had the makeup on, he had people leave the trailer so he could just make faces in the mirror and see what the makeup could do. I was prepared to do that, but it went deeper than that. I was anticipating going through that and feeling that, but when I actually saw it… it was just surreal. It was more than I thought it would be. And you’re right. It instantly put me in character. The thing is, when you have makeup like that on… when you look like that… you’re already scary and you don’t have to act scary. If you act scary, you’re going too far.

TrunkSpace: You can hear the enthusiasm in your voice for playing the character. It seems like a true fanboy living out his dream kind of experience.
Taylor: Totally. Definitely. Sometimes as an actor you’re just getting a paycheck and that’s what it’s about. Or you’re getting what will lead to being able to qualify for health insurance and that’s what it comes down to and it’s real life. Whereas something like this, you’ve got this history and you love this character and you can’t even believe it’s happened to you. I look at these posters of myself… I have sort of a little shrine in my living room. I admit it. (Laughter) And these pictures of ME as Pinhead… it’s like, “Dude? What? That’s me!” And the movie hasn’t even come out yet and I just can’t wait. The head trips that I have put myself through sometimes… it’s just so glorious because of the history of the franchise and I just hope I do it justice. I think I do, but we’ll see.

The film has yet to receive a definitive release date.

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Chilling Out

Dominic Zamprogna


Chilling Out
Dominic Zamprogna

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Dominic Zamprogna, an actor who science fiction fans will recognize from his turn as Jammer in the series “Battlestar Galactica” and who soap opera fans will instantly know from his long-running starring role as Dante Falconeri in “General Hospital.” We sat down with Zamprogna to discuss the similarities between the two worlds and where they intersect in the grand scheme of pop culture.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked in science fiction and of course, you’ve been starring in “General Hospital” for years. While the audiences are different it seems like they are also similar in terms of how devoted they are?
Zamprogna: Oh yeah. For sure! I didn’t even have a big role in “Battlestar Galactica.” I was on that show for like four seasons and I still, to this day, go around and get recognized almost as much as I do… probably even more than I do for “General Hospital.” That changes when you go to New York. When you go to New York there are some hardcore soap fans out there that resemble the tenacity of the sci-fi community.

TrunkSpace: Why do you think it’s that way with those genres and not, say, a major network drama series that pulls more viewers, but has less passionate ones?
Zamprogna: It’s funny because they have millions of more viewers. They’re just not as loud I guess. Soaps… I’ve been there almost eight years now on GH and it doesn’t feel like that. It’s gone by in the blink of an eye. I’ve had three kids in the meantime and, you know, when you’re working three to five days a week, your life just passes you by a little bit and you wake up and it’s like, “Damn, I’m kind of a veteran here.” Having said that, I don’t feel like I really know what makes people keep coming back every day. You meet people who have been watching since they were a kid and it’s like a ritual.

TrunkSpace: And it seems sort of like favorite soaps are passed on from generation to generation.
Zamprogna: Yeah. That’s what I think is very different about the sci-fi community. But, the soap thing… I think every kid came home and their parents were watching it. Or, as I did in the summer when I was 12 or 13, I spent the summer with my grandparents and I used to always think it was my grandmother who was the big soap fan and realized that summer that it was my grandfather who was the big soap fan. He was the one who was sitting in front of his chair every day at 12:30 getting ready to watch the show that was supposedly not his favorite show. There’s more of a surprise audience with the soap fans. You’ll be in a lineup doing autographs and all these guys will come up and start shaking your hand and be like, “I love you, man. Your character is so great.” And you’re like, “Oh wow, man. That’s really cool. What do you do?” And they’re like, “I’m a cop.” You’re a real life cop and you watch my show and you actually think I’m a cool character? That means the world to me. That’s awesome.

And the sci-fi thing… maybe I understand it less because I don’t watch a ton of sci-fi. I mean, I don’t watch a ton of soaps either, but the soap thing is on every day so I can kind of understand that attraction. It’s kind of like your fix. The sci-fi thing… I don’t know what makes it tick.

TrunkSpace: With some science fiction fans, you’re either a “Star Wars” fan or a “Star Trek” fan. With some soap fans, you’re either a “General Hospital” fan or a “Days of our Lives” fan.
Zamprogna: Yeah, it’s like never the twain shall meet. It’s kind of fascinating.

Obviously a lot of the soaps that were on when I first got to GH eight years ago have been taken off the air because of cost and networks wanting to try other options… like putting on daytime talk shows that cost half as much as it costs to produce a soap every day. And I think that worked in some markets and didn’t work in others, but it’s an interesting thing… these fans that were fans of shows that were canceled, they will come over to our show. It’s almost like sports. If your favorite player gets traded or you hate a guy who’s on another team but he finally comes over to your team, it’s like, “Oh, now I love that guy!” You don’t want to play against him but you love having him on your team. It’s kind of like that. We’ve had a bunch of soap actors come from other shows and these soaps that have remained have kind of stacked the deck in hopes of bringing over those fans. And they come. A lot of them have come.

TrunkSpace: It’s like creating the super group of soap actors.
Zamprogna: Yeah. It’s sort of gone that way. When you go from like eight or 10… I think there were even more at one point in the early 2000s or 90s… and when you pair it down to four, it’s kind of like four all-star teams or something like that.

TrunkSpace: Another way in which the two worlds seem similar is sort of the fantastical storytelling that the characters can find themselves wrapped up in. As an actor, what is the craziest story arc you’ve ever been involved with?
Zamprogna: There’s been so many! There’s like this evil family called the Cassadines and they have an evil matriarch of the family who has a vendetta against my wife’s family, who stole our embryo because we can’t have babies and my wife doesn’t have anymore eggs so we had to freeze her eggs and they stole our embryo and got some woman to drug some guy and got her pregnant. I mean, it’s crazy! (Laughter)

The best one to me was when I first got to the show. I was undercover and I was infiltrating the mob and when I went to arrest the guy, the head of the mob, I got shot. Of course I didn’t take backup or wear a vest that day… or bring a gun. (Laughter) And he shoots me and I wake up and find out that he’s my father.

TrunkSpace: Dun dun DUN!
Zamprogna: Yeah. That was a really awesome beat to play. It was a good, sort of six month build up to that kind of pay off and fans really dug that. I really dug that.

I think you’re right. Maybe that is kind of the similarity. Everyone can get behind the original sci-fi. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a guy like Superman do whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants, you know?

TrunkSpace: Both worlds, science fiction and soaps, help you escape the normalcy of life for a little while.
Zamprogna: Yeah. Reality is out the window.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared in some additional science fiction and genre shows, including “Stargate,” “Flash Gordon,” and “Smallville,” to name a few. These are all shows with history in terms of the worlds and characters in which they represent. As an actor, do you ever sit back and just kind of take that all in… the idea that you’ve had an imprint on these worlds, including “General Hospital?”
Zamprogna: I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about putting an imprint on them. I mean, the soap world is such a grand world in the fact that it’s been around for so long. GH has been on for 53 years. I kind of think I’m just a blip on the radar of that show. I’m not downplaying anything, but if I was Maurice Benard, the guy who plays Sonny, he’s been there almost 25 years. Or Luke and Laura… those are the people I think really put those shows on the map and I think they get to take all of the credit for that stuff.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been starring in “General Hospital” since 2009 and from what we can make out, you’ve appeared in nearly 1,000 episodes. There are every day acts that people have not done 1,000 times. What is that like having such a large body of work, especially in such a short period of time? It seems kind of breakneck.
Zamprogna: It is. I think that’s why it feels like it hasn’t taken that time. It feels like I’ve done, maybe, a third of that amount of episodes… or a quarter of that amount of episodes. We do so many in a day, that it doesn’t feel like we’re actually doing as much as we’re doing.

TrunkSpace: Multiple episodes in a day?
Zamprogna: Yeah. We do like an episode and a half a day. I think sometimes, depending on the schedule, we can do upwards of six episodes a week. And so, a week goes by in the time another show would not even get a whole episode done. So, when you sit back and look at it, it’s like, “Holy crap!”

Dominic Zamprogna in “Battlestar Glactica.” Photo: Carole Segal

TrunkSpace: When you do a show like “Supernatural,” which you appeared on years ago, that’s replaying every week in some syndicated format somewhere. And yet, you do a show like “General Hospital,” and it tends to air once and then disappear.
Zamprogna: Yeah, which sucks for residuals sake too. (Laughter) But, something like “Supernatural,” which I was in the first season of… and that’s turned into a giant hit show. And obviously that’s all because of the jump-start that I gave that show. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You sold your performance as a vampire!
Zamprogna: That’s right, man! (Laughter)

Zamprogna can be seen daily on ABC’s “General Hospital” and is currently in the process of developing a pair of projects of his own.

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Chilling Out

Mark Steger


Chilling Out
Mark Steger

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Mark Steger, an actor not instantly recognizable due to the fact that he’s usually buried deep beneath makeup and prosthetics. While Steger has performed and choreographed nightmare-inducing creatures in countless films, it is his turn as The Monster in the monster hit “Stranger Things” that continues to keep us up (and upside right) at night.


TrunkSpace: “Stranger Things” became the most talked about television series last year. Was there any indication during the production, at least for you, that it was going to be something special?
Steger: Well, it definitely had the feeling of a good one. I met the Duffers and I really liked them. They gave me a really good sense of themselves as directors. We have sensibilities that… certain commonalities and sensibilities. I met the other cast members and I read the script and I thought it was going to be one I could look back on and say, “I like that.” Nobody really thought it would become the pop cultural phenomenon that it became. I thought it would be popular, but not the kind of wildly popular that it became. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Do you think part of its success was because it so successfully plugged into that nostalgic feel of films like “The Goonies” and “The Monster Squad,” films that sort of defined a generation from the 80s who grew up on watching those movies in heavy rotation on HBO?
Steger: Yes. I’m sure that has a lot to do with its success. One of the things that I think makes it work is that it doesn’t feel like somebody just decided, “Hey, let’s do an 80s trip kind of thing and see if we can cash in.” It really feels like that there’s a lot of affection for that period of filmmaking. And what they wanted to do was make a film that would look like it would have come from that period. I really think that was the feeling that they were going for.

TrunkSpace: And you could feel that in the set dressing. None of the 80s brands and styles, at least those that Hollywood has focused on in the past, were front and center.
Steger: Yeah. And one of the things they did really well, people who were living in the 80s, they had stuff from the 60s and 70s in their house. Some of the stuff in Joyce’s house, that’s not furniture from the 80s. (Laughter) And I think actually some of that furniture had been lived in. (Laughter)

That attention to detail… that’s a big deal. Stylistically, it had that 80s vibe, but also it had a certain lived in naturalism that was going on that sold it. It felt like a lived in world.

TrunkSpace: We talk to actors about how they get into the mindset of a particular character or role, but, when you’re performing a creature that has never been seen or heard of before… how do you do that?
Steger: Well, obviously a lot of the inspiration comes from the look of the creature and its biometrics and whatever you get from the director, which was very concise from them. Their direction was, basically I’m like the shark from “Jaws.” And that helps you zero right in on it. But at the same time, I always ask myself certain questions. A lot of it is just stuff you ask yourself as an actor anyway. What does my character want? But, if it’s a being from another dimension it’s, what’s the atmosphere like where I come from? What’s the gravity like there? I’m obviously not psychologically human, so what is that state of mind? Being in the kind of suit… especially this particular suit that Spectral Motion built… it was really remarkable. Your biometrics are very different and what you’re getting from your senses is very different. You can’t necessarily see as well. You can’t smell as well. You can’t hear as well. All of this stuff helps contribute to feeling like something other. It’s not that difficult to get into a creature’s psychological state from that point. And then you’re working with these other wonderful actors who they… to a large degree they have to sell it. They have to sell your monsterness. It’s their reactions to what you’re doing so they get a lot of credit as well for creating the creature. It’s a lot of people. It’s the designers… Aaron Sims’ company. The practical effects artists, the visual effects artists and the actors. The production design. So much stuff goes into what’s available to me to draw from for inspiration.

From the film “This is the End.” Makeup by KNB EFX. Photo by Norman Cabrerra.

TrunkSpace: And so in your performance, you were always in scene with the other actors and able to react to them?
Steger: I was there on set with the actors, which is great. It’s great for the actors and it’s great for me. I had a lot of fun with Charlie (Heaton) and Natalia (Dyer) and Joe (Keery) shooting some of those scenes in the house. Yeah, the kids were a joy to work with. And the younger ones too. Scenes with Millie (Bobby Brown)… that stuff’s great. I feel like I have a great job. I really feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.

TrunkSpace: For an audience, seeing a child’s reaction to a monster sort of ups the fear and realism because a child’s fear is so natural and not bogged down by life and adult ego.
Steger: Yeah. Definitely. Kid reactions are it’s own thing. The thing is too, in-between shots, I’d just be hanging out in my special monster chair that I had to sit in…

TrunkSpace: Wait. Special monster chair?
Steger: Yeah. Because of the suit. (Laughter) So I’d be sitting in my monster chair and the kids would walk by me and I’d just be like, “You’re going down, kid.” (Laughter) And then we’d start talking smack to each other. So, they would see who I was and they knew. So they were acting. Obviously when you see this thing in front of you that’s seven feet tall and has this crazy head and really long arms… it for sure helps, but they would see me with the head off and we’d be chatting. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: The way the show handled the early introduction of the monster… seeing it feed… there was something very primal and animalistic to that.
Steger: Yeah. Definitely. It was pretty single-minded, for sure.

TrunkSpace: And that visual that the directors gave you… it’s the shark from “Jaws”… it paints an incredible picture of, here’s this creature that feeds, and then it goes away and does what a creature does when it’s not feeding.
Steger: Exactly. And like the character in “Jaws,” it exists in this other atmosphere and then it comes into your atmosphere, it jumps out… unless you get into its atmosphere… it crosses between this threshold and grabs something and goes back. That’s kind of perfect. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And what’s interesting about that is, a human character in a horror film is a bad guy, but here, a monster is just a monster. It’s not necessarily bad, at least in its own self-awareness, it’s just doing what a monster does.
Steger: Yeah. Exactly. It’s not one of those ones where there’s some kind of a gray area. It just is what it is. It’s doing what it does. It’s not making a decision that, “I like being bad.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It’s not twirling it’s mustache.
Steger: (Laughter) That’s actually kind of funny. Twirling his little imaginary mustache. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: The 80s in particular were a great time for monsters in the proper sense. Freddy, Jason, Pumpkinhead, etc. Today, zombies have sort of taken over the monster mainstay and changed the focus. Is it cool for you to be a part of something where a sort of proper monster gets attention again?
Steger: Yeah. That’s very cool. It’s a classic monster, which is pretty awesome. It’s just like… “Monster!” (Laughter) Say no more! (Laughter) Yeah, it’s classic in the mold of, you know, the original Alien and many other touchstones. My influences go back to the old Universal horror films… Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff… that stuff. I mean, I’m not that old, but I remember watching that stuff when I was a kid and just loving that stuff. It was so well done. And they were such great actors too. That’s one thing that’s not appreciated all the time… what actually goes into creating a monster. Aside from all of the design and makeup and all that… they were these amazing performers in that makeup.

TrunkSpace: And what was so cool about those old Universal movies was that they were tormented victims at the same time that they victimized people.
Steger: Yeah. They were not understood. They were innocent to some degree. Again, they were just being themselves. It’s like a dog. You can’t blame the dog for pooping on the carpet or whatever. It just needs to go. (Laughter)

It’s a great genre to be in and a great tradition when you think about that you’re a part of something that’s greater than yourself. There’s a lineage to that. And I really felt that with “Stranger Things.” It was very rewarding for sure.

TrunkSpace: Genres rise and fall in popularity, but horror always seems to maintain a steady level of interest. Why do people love to be scared?
Steger: I don’t know. You’re confronting primal fears and I think it can be very cathartic for people. I know it was for me when I was younger. And still is if I see a good one… if I see one that I like. I’m very picky. (Laughter) And I think that just never goes away. It’s like that, “What’s in the cave? What’s under the bed?” When you’re a kid… there are these fears that everybody has of the unknown and seeing that manifest with some imagination is always… it’s thrilling. It’s exciting. It’s fun. When you’re in a movie theater with a bunch of people and something really incredibly scary happens and it really works on screen, a lot of times people will start to laugh. It’s a relief and I think it’s valuable. I think there’s a lot of value in this genre. You know, it’s exploited a lot obviously, but what isn’t? There are people out there who are sincerely in love with it and some good directors out there and a good audience out there.

From the film “Priest.” Makeup by KNB EFX. Photo by Howard Berger.

TrunkSpace: It’s also a genre that works so well as a shared experience, which is why it probably maintains such steady popularity in theaters.
Steger: Yeah. The communal experience with horror is what I think really sets it apart. I worked with a director named Nicholas McCarthy, who is actually one of my favorite directors to work with. We’ve done some low-budget horror films together, including “The Pact,” “At the Devil’s Door,” and recently a segment of “Holidays.” A lot of times when you’re doing low-budget things you have no idea what kind of distribution deal you’re going to get or if it’s going to end up in theaters, but he always makes a point of wanting it to be able to play in theaters and I think that makes a big difference. I really enjoy seeing it in a theater. There’s something about that communal experience that you can’t really replace.

TrunkSpace: So will we be seeing you in the second season of “Stranger Things?”
Steger: Yeah… that I can’t say anything about. (Laughter) I apologize, but I signed a book-length nondisclosure for that.

Steger is currently writing a dark horror film of his own with a writing partner and hopes to go into production on the film later this year.

And, could we see him in…?

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Chilling Out

Daniel Truly


Chilling Out
Daniel Truly

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Daniel Truly, a television writer and producer who has filled his resume with impressive runs on successful series like “Law & Order: SVU” and “Blue Bloods,” but as a horror/science fiction lover at heart, he revels in the opportunity to work on projects that make his 12-year-old self smile… like when he served as writer and supervising producer on “Blade: The Series.”

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working regularly in television for a number of years now and have had your hand in quite a few massive hits. In your experience, what’s the key to finding an audience in this sort of scattered, short-attention-span age? Is there a magic formula?
Truly: I think there are two answers to this. One, personally, I feel like the idea for a show has to be singular enough and easily identified enough just to be able to get it through the noise of our current super-fragmented culture. The second version is, studios and networks need something… they need a clear idea, but they need something they can hang the marketing of it all on. That’s why so many things get rebooted, simply because people want… they just rebooted “One Day at a Time” on Netflix. And, for some reason, “One Day at a Time,” the old Bonnie Franklin show, has persisted in cultural memory in a way that you instantly know what that show is as opposed to a show called “Blended,” where you don’t know if it’s a show about a blended family or a guy that’s selling blenders on infomercials. So, when I’m writing, you always want to try and boil the idea down. How can you tell it to yourself over and over in a way that you instantly know what the show is, and in addition to that, you kind of need something that… on every network, before they choose shows, they run these shows by the marketing departments so that marketing can come up with a strategy about how to break through the amount of culture clutter and teach an audience what your show is.

TrunkSpace: So, as you’re looking at new projects for yourself, if you find something that is really unique and interesting, do you also have to look at what is the familiar theme or concept? Do you have to think like the marketing department? You hear all the time about studios wanting unique ideas, but at the same time, mostly you see regurgitated ideas getting made these days.
Truly: Well, part of that is caused by an odd thing that the networks do. People in network development, and this is the job and I don’t envy them because it’s difficult, but in development they get hundreds of pitches every pitch season and they read hundreds of scripts, so they’re very kind of… not jaded, but they have seen a lot. It takes a lot to catch their attention. So, they will make a pilot that is very, very interesting, like a couple of years ago… I think it was on CBS or NBC… there was a show called “Hostages” where the president’s family is taken hostage and it was a riveting pilot and a riveting idea. The network goes, “We know how to sell this show!” So, they develop it, they shoot the pilot, they give it notes, and when it gets picked up for series it has been passed to the current team, so the development people then go back to developing new shows and executives in current have to make that show into a… let’s just say a 10 year hit. They then discover, I believe… and the audience discovers… is that how do you keep a show at that level of tension? How do you keep the president’s family kidnapped for 10 seasons? Obviously you can’t, but how do you keep delivering stuff on that idea, and that’s where the disconnect is. The things that get bought are the big, shiny, unique objects and if you want a show… I was lucky enough to be on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for three seasons and I just finished four seasons on “Blue Bloods.” “SVU” is, I think, in it’s 18th season and “Blue Bloods” is in its 7th.

TrunkSpace: And those are both procedurals, which seems better suited for a prolonged series with staying power. 
Truly: One hour… kind of close-ended shows… work well in perpetuity because you don’t really need to know what happened the week before and you come in and there’s a case. What makes a big, long, hit show is not necessarily what makes an exciting pilot. Every year you see a lot of exciting pilots and then you ask yourself, “What is episode 3?” Or, “What is SEASON 3 of this?” So, I tend to do procedurals. I tend not to do super, intricate serialized shows, just because I can’t keep up with that stuff. I try to keep in mind what I’m good at.

TrunkSpace: And it seems like networks sort of own the procedural space as cable continues to focus its attention elsewhere.
Truly: Yes. When I was out pitching pilots this past fall, what I kept hearing was that the networks were finally deciding that they weren’t going to really try with what cable does. They wanted billion dollar, SVU-like shows that they could syndicate and have dynasties with. Because, for a long time, especially when cable really ramped up over the last 15 years, all of the development executives… that’s where the excitement was. A show like “SVU” or “NCIS” are not critically-loved shows. The critically-loved shows are “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos.” Every development executive and every writer… you want to be involved with exciting stuff, so for the longest time, the networks tried to do what cable does and yet they were limited because they can’t do sex and violence. They can’t do language. They can’t really get as gritty as cable can get. And also, from a corporate level, the corporate overlords are asking for very, very successful, long-running shows. I mean, Les Moonves who runs CBS and Viacom and all the rest of it… he has very publicly said that he doesn’t care about Emmys. He wants very successful shows that please the shareholders of those companies. A lot of people are like, “Well that’s horseshit!” But you know what, that’s nothing to sneeze at! That is as difficult as making a very kind of creatively exciting cable show.

TrunkSpace: What was it that hooked you to look at Hollywood as a career?
Truly: When I was 12 I saw “Jaws” and it changed my entire existence. That movie blew my mind and I said, “I’m going to go to Hollywood and do whatever that was.” I really didn’t even know what job that was going to be.

TrunkSpace: You just knew that you wanted to be a part of it.
Truly: I wanted to be a part of that thing because it was just incredibly exciting that this could be something that… it’s like you want to go on that roller coaster again. And then you find out, you come out to the business and you find out that most of the rides are like “It’s a Small World After All,” and it’s boring. (Laughter) But, every once in awhile you’ll find that roller coaster and you get to be a part of something. And to this day… I mean, there is a friend of mine who does an internet radio show and I just happened to be there when the writer of “Jaws,” Carl Gottlieb was on. And the production designer Joe Alves was on! And this was the greatest moment of my professional life. And, the second greatest was, when I was a kid I saw a TV movie with Richard Thomas from “The Waltons” who was playing a guy in a snowbound house and he was tormenting somebody. And all I remember is that the end of the movie… this was probably on ABC… they stabbed him in the back with a pair of scissors and he ran out into the snow and he couldn’t get the scissors out of his back and I thought that was really, really chilling. So, on an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” I had Eric McCormack playing a girl’s dad and I had the daughter stab a pair of scissors into Eric McCormack’s neck. The character was instantly in shock and pulled the scissors back out and this big jet of blood goes across the squad room and I remember sitting on the set, and there’s the special effects guy and they have the tubes and they’re ready to squirt the blood, and I was like, “Okay, this was all because when I was a little kid I saw that.” But, that was very, very exciting.

TrunkSpace: And what could bring it full circle is, someone saw that episode of “SVU,” found it equally as chilling, and one day may write it into something they’re working on a decade or two down the road.
Truly: (Laughter) You know, I like to pay forward the idea that scissors are far more dangerous than we think they are.

TrunkSpace: That’s why we’re taught to walk with them while holding them upside down!
Truly: Exactly. You know, I should do a scene where a kid runs with them the other way, the scissors go right through his eye socket, pushing the eyeball out the back of his head. See, that’s… I have done a lot of genre and I have done a lot of crime shows and stuff, but at heart, I’m kind of a monster kid. In film and TV it was “Planet of the Apes,” and “Jaws,” and “The Road Warrior.” And even in music it was Alice Cooper and KISS. When I revert to my inner 12-year-old, that’s kind of where it really lives for me.

TrunkSpace: When you look at the current television landscape, one that has embraced shows based on popular comic book properties, do you think “Blade: The Series” was ahead of its time in terms of mass audience conception for a show like that?
Truly: I think so. And I also think that the infrastructure of fans being able to talk to other fans about these things… look, I loved doing “Blade: The Series.” It was everything that I wanted to do. It was genre. It was blood. There were girls. We shot international versions so we did cursing and nudity. I’ve known David Goyer for 30 years. Geoff Johns, who now runs DC, was the number two on the show. So, it was this neat little perfect storm of a lot of fun stuff. And, we almost got a second season, but you know… it surprises me that they have not tried to reboot “Blade” as a series because it’s perfect. I like to think that we were a little bit ahead of our time. I wished that we had gotten a second season, but that’s the way it goes.

TrunkSpace: If the series was released today in the form that it was originally created in, do you think it would find an audience? Or, do you think that things have progressed so much in terms of what people are willing to consume on television that it is already dated?
Truly: Well, it probably has in terms of… just the amount of visual effects you can do on a TV show now. We did wire work. We did some CG. But, we were always kind of bumping up against the technical limitations and certainly the money limitations. But, it airs on the Chiller network every once in awhile, and I mean… I would hope that people would find it. Just because, you know… I always know that if I’m having fun on a show, then I think it translates. When I’m not having fun on a show is when I know it’s a dog because if I can’t find something to be excited about then…

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Chilling Out

Trevor Macy


Chilling Out
Trevor Macy

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Trevor Macy, a prolific filmmaker and co-founder of Intrepid Pictures. Macy has served as executive producer on films like “The Strangers,” “Safe House,” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” as well as producer on “Oculus,” “Hush,” and the soon-to-be-released “Gerald’s Game.” His latest film is “The Bye Bye Man.”

Doug Jones – © 2015 STX Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

: How did you get involved in The Bye Bye Man and what can people expect?
Macy: The project came to me a few years ago… I want to say 2009… in the form of a short story by Robert Damon Schneck called “Bridge to Body Island.” “Bridge to Body Island” is part of an anthology called “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America.” And what struck me about this particular chapter in the anthology was that it came with a warning, which is, for those who fear obsessive thoughts or are particularly skittish, don’t read this chapter. “And by the way, this is told to me by a friend who holds it forth as true events.” So I thought that was pretty interesting. And what was in the short story that was super compelling was this concept of a villain who comes to you if you think or say his name. That acts as a beacon and it draws him to you.

TrunkSpace: Which is sort of a familiar concept for those who grew up with the classic childhood tale Bloody Mary.
Macy: I’d be happy to be mentioned in the same sentence with Bloody Mary or “Candyman,” you know? (Laughter) But what’s interesting about “The Bye Bye Man” is that he sort of seeps into your cracks. The only weapon he needs to hurt you is you. He can see your worst fears and pervert your worst intentions, so it bespoke terror in a way. He’s going to make you hallucinate based on what you fear the most or what he can get you with and that’s what he feeds off of.

TrunkSpace: It’s sort of the even more terrifying version of the famous line from “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep!” But here, he can get you at any moment.
Macy: Right. The comedic version of that is that if I tell you not to think of pink elephants, what are you going to do?

TrunkSpace: The actor portraying The Bye Bye Man is Doug Jones, a sort of modern day genre icon. How important was casting the main villain?
Macy: I need to start this and end it by saying how much I love Doug Jones as a person because I think the guy is just an incredible human being. More importantly, professionally, he has, I think, such an extraordinary… my friend Mike Flanagan with whom I’ve also worked with and also worked with Doug… says that Doug has more acting talent in his little finger than most actors do in their whole body. What he means by that is, a lot of his characters only can emote with expressions and movement. Not only is he extraordinary at doing it, but he’s extraordinary at doing it usually in a lot of make-up and prosthetics.

TrunkSpace: Which is interesting because a lot of people probably don’t even realize that he has been behind so many iconic characters over the years.
Macy: Right. I showed my 6-year-old daughter “Hocus Pocus” the other day and because Doug has been over to our house and she’s met him, I was like, the zombie… Bette Midler’s ex-boyfriend is played by Doug Jones in that movie. Doug’s been everywhere! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And that’s got to be a great position for him to be in because he’s had such an incredible career for years, and yet he can probably still walk down the street and just be Doug Jones.
Macy: Absolutely right. I can’t wait to work with him again. He’s super talented and just a pleasure as a human being. It’s weird actually, to have somebody play… I mean, he can turn on the performance in such a way that he just exudes fear. And for someone who is such a warm, caring person, it’s a fascinating skill.

TrunkSpace: Would “The Bye Bye Man” have been a different film had it been a different actor in the role?
Macy: That’s a good question. I mean, I don’t think there’s another Doug Jones running around the world. So yes, because of his performance, I think it would have been different. Story-wise, because it has antecedents, it would have certainly seemed like the same story, but I believe Doug really elevates it. 

TrunkSpace: Many people have been predicting the demise of the theater-going experience for a number of years now, and yet one of the tried and true success stories for Hollywood remains the horror genre. Why do you think the genre continues to resonate with audiences?
Macy: Fear is hardwired into us as human beings. It is an evolutionary basic response that has ensured the survival and development of our species. Moreover, as it pertains to the theatrical experience, fear like laughter, is better shared. I have often said to people, “Please don’t watch “The Strangers” or “Hush” at home alone by yourself because you might call and be pissed at me the next day.” If I do my job as a filmmaker and it feels real and relatable to you, it’s still once removed. And so, you get to share that experience and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.

TrunkSpace: Fears have many layers as well, which makes them something everyone can relate too. Not everyone will be afraid of the dark, but those who are will be, and those who aren’t may be afraid of what’s hiding in the dark. They can share the experience without having the same fear.
Macy: That’s exactly right. That’s well put. The unique thing about fear is that it really sparks the imagination. I think good scary movies allow you to do that work as a fan and audience member. I mean, I can think of a few images that maybe lived up to my imagination in cinematic history, but the thing is, most of what any audience member creates is scarier to that individual person than anything you can put on the screen.

TrunkSpace: Which is why a lot of fans of the genre always point to the source material when it comes to the adaptation of books because they already have an unattainable visual in their head for the monster, villain, etc.
Macy: In engaging the audience, it’s really important to let them fill in some blanks. That’s why I don’t really favor… I’m going to call them “jump scare fests.” When you puncture the tension it’s fun and some of those movies work, but really it’s about the build and letting that tension play. I think most of the movies I gravitate towards working on… that’s something they share.

TrunkSpace: Horror films are at their best when you can’t track them and you are caught completely off guard. One of those moments that worked so well comes from your film “The Strangers” in the scene where Glenn Howerton’s character is wrongly identified with very grave results. Was that a moment, even during filming, that you thought would catch audiences by surprise?
Macy: Well that’s a funny one because I think we won on two fronts with that. Some people were like, “oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no,” and the other people were like “what, what, what, what.” (Laughter) So depending on how you perceived that moment, I think it kind of works either way. That’s not a common thing to be able to say about a moment like that, but I think that was a fun one.

TrunkSpace: And what’s cool about that scene, and particularly for Glenn, is that it’s such a small role, but it had such a big moment and impact in the film and with audiences.
Macy: Because of where and how he comes into the film, you imbue him with so much hope. (Laughter) Anything his character does is kind of heightened. And it’s always fun to mess with people that way if you can. I mean, I think they like it. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: By having a moment like that, you give the audience hope and then take it away, putting them in a position to then question that anything is possible moving forward.
Macy: Yeah, that’s true. It’s an interesting balance though. You kind of always have to keep it grounded and relatable. “The Strangers” wasn’t obviously supernatural, but even when you are dealing with supernatural elements, you kind of have to keep it in the chute so that people… you want them unsettled. If you cross over into the point where anything is possible, then a lot of people lose interest and I think rightfully so.

Trunk: Is that why you think “The Strangers” worked so well with audiences… because it could have been anybody in any house?
Macy: Well, one of the great things in Bertino’s script, and which became one of the great things in Universal’s campaign (because I think they picked up on this aspect of the movie as much as anybody), was that it was because you were home. That instantly makes it relatable and chilling in a very concise way. So I think the answer to your question is yes.

TrunkSpace: There’s been talk and speculation for a long time about a sequel to “The Strangers.” Is that something fans can expect in the near future?
Macy: Well, your lips to God’s ears. I hope so.

TrunkSpace: Is there pressure for you as a filmmaker to make the “scariest movie in years” every time out and knock it out of the park?
Macy: One always wants to knock it out of the park. (Laughter) I think, in a sense, scary is in the eye of the beholder in how a movie comes together. What I feel pressure for is… are we making something fresh and interesting, are we making something that is going to grab people, and are we making something that is going to stay with them when they leave the theater? People can decide what becomes a classic and what doesn’t, but I think if you can do those three things, then you’re on great footing and the movie can succeed on its own terms.

Courtesy of STX Entertainment – © 2015 STX Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Bye Bye Man arrived in theaters January 13th, 2017.

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