Oh how we love "Freak Out", the bizarre, twisted and ridiculous 2004 parody by Christian James, starring the excellent duo Dan Palmer and James Heathcote. But at a certain point you need to stop replaying the same ol' movies, and look ahead. Christian James was probably thinking the same thing, as we're 9 years into the future and the second feature, "Stalled" was just finished. We decided to have a little chat with him about his new achievement and some other things. So let's enjoy this quirky, clever man for a bit!
Note that this interview was done right before Frightfest, so the festival questions might seem dated (by mere days). It's all good!
First of all, I am curious, how did you and Dan Palmer first meet, and how did it move onto filmmaking?
We met at film school. But when I say ‘film school’ don’t go picturing a UCLA/Cal-Arts style creative hub... no, no. The course was a little rough around the edges and as Dan and I were the youngest in our year - we were handed the shittier jobs. We bonded through this exclusion and went abouts making our own projects, out of the college hours/curriculum etc. Didn’t finish many of them but learned valuable lessons, like the need for lights on a night shoot, silly things like that.
When did the seeds of filmmaking get planted, for lack of better word, in you?
Crumbs, that’s a toughie. It was a gradual realization. As a kid I was always dicking around with my dad’s precious camera. At the time a career in film hadn’t occurred to me but when I browsed the college prospectus and saw there was a film course, that was the lightning bolt moment - realizing I could get paid to work in film (hahaha, if only I KNEW then what I know now). Didn’t expect to get anywhere near movies as I didn’t know ANYONE in the industry. Fortunately as I was graduating the landscape was changing and doors weren’t as closed as they once were.
A big favorite here on FilmBizarro.com, "Freak Out", was your debut feature. According to IMDb you haven't made anything prior. Did you make any shorts (or hidden features) before then?
Awesome! Glad it’s even on your radar, let alone a favourite. Yes, we’ve made a crap ton of shorts, as previously stated - 90% of which were never finished. Palmer starred in most of them. A personal fave’ would have to be "Terry the Cat vs the Pet Shop Boys", a classic. One film that did get ‘out there’ a little, was "Bank Holiday Monday". A short film I wrote/directed that germinated "Freak Out".
I think most horror fan-filmmakers have either thought about doing a parody (or make fun of horror movies), or actually done their own. What do you think you did differently with "Freak Out" that made it stand out and actually get attention?
Well first off we shot it on 16mm film. I think that’s why it feels.. er... different? There was something about digital at that time that felt odd and just didn’t feel like a movie... unless, of course, the format was part of the movie itself ("Blair Witch Project", "28 Days Later"). At the time, we were pegged as a pastiche, I lost count of the "Scary Movie" references. In actual fact we were very cautious not to re-enact our favourite scenes from recent horror classics, à la the Wayans brothers. We made a comedy movie for horror fans. And therein is the big difference.
What can you tell me the short films "Hit/Run" and "Absence"? Both seem to be challenging time - one made for the 48 Hour Film Challenge in 2011, the other a one minute movie.
Haha, they keep popping up. Now I’m getting a taste of what it must feel like when those saucy snaps pop up later in the acting career. Well they couldn’t be more different. "Absence" is a 48hour short I’m very proud of. "Hit/Run" isn’t my thing at all. It was shooting and they needed a director, at the 11th hour I volunteered. I was only involved for the 4 hour shoot, nothing else. More of a 1st A.D. really but I guess someone had to take the credit. "Absence" I made with the same bunch of people, but this time It was my gig. All conceived, executed & delivered in 48 hours as part of the Sci-Fi London Film Challenge. That was a blast.and we were a finalist too. Last year, Warwick Davis handpicked it as one of his fave’ entries so it keeps popping back up which I’m chuffed about. If you’re interested I’ve got some very sexy snaps of Dan Palmer that could be yours for the right price?
"Stalled" is your new feature, can you tell us a bit about what it is and what inspired it?
It’s 90 minutes (well, nearly) of laughs, blood, fun, drama and laughs again, set entirely in a toilet stall. Dan Palmer plays WC - a down on his luck maintenance worker, who just happens to be fixing the ladies restroom when a zombie apocalypse gets underway. I’m a huge fan of high concept cinema. Dan is a huge fan of public toilets. It’s also an extension of Palmer’s fever dream upon watching "Day of the Dead" (the original) for the squillionth time. Usually we develop material but in this instance he just kinda vomited out a first draft. He’d been talking about it as a proposed project with a buddy of ours but they both agreed it had CJ written all over it. I got involved, we wrote a bunch more drafts/variations but came full circle back to something not too dissimilar to the original.
I assume "Stalled" is a more serious feature than "Freak Out", even though it's clearly filled with comedy. Do you think it leans more towards either horror or comedy? What's your secret recipe of getting those two to work perfectly together?
Hells YEAH. In "Freak Out" we were constantly breaking the 4th wall and apologizing for the non-existent production values. We KNEW that this time out we couldn’t cash any ‘hey, be fair, it’s only our first time’ cheques. We’d done the anarchic ‘anything goes’ thing and we both wanted to flex other muscles. There’s some brief dramatic moments in "Stalled" and we clung onto those, I couldn’t wait to shoot, edit, score them, etc. It was fun to be working with Dan and focusing on things other than ‘the gag’ and balancing some weightier material. Don’t get me wrong, "Stalled" is FUN first and foremost, but when your main character is constantly reminded of his impending mortality, you get to play with other emotions a little. Secret recipe? I’m still working on it. It’s still very early days but I’m getting the feeling we may have gotten it someway near the ballpark. Very excited about the FrightFest feedback and eventual release.
Will it be doing a festival run, if so - where? And when can we expect a DVD, blu or VOD release?
Yes, We’ve already started. World Premiere was in July at the Puchon International Film Festival in South Korea. European Premiere is in a week at Film4/FrightFest. We sold out our screenings so they’ve added a 3rd: bank holiday Monday at 8.40pm - BOOK NOW!!!! We’ll be there doing QnA’s, handjobs etc. There are a LOT of other festivals September/October but I’m not allowed to announce anything just yet. Best to keep an eye on the Facebook and Twitter pages for up to date info. It’s being released theatrically in the U.S on October 4th with, I think, a same date VOD release. Blu Ray & DVD to follow shortly after. There was talk of some Xbox live exclusive, we’ll see. Again, keep your eyes on FB (StalledMovie) and Twitter (@Stalledmovie). UK and the rest of Europe all being arranged as we speak.
Is there anything we've missed that you'd like to tell the readers about "Stalled"?
Everything I’m dying to talk about would delve heavily into spoiler territory. Fingers crossed we’ve made a movie for peops like a us. A zombie movie that isn’t about zombies, it’s a character based movie with zombies in it, like any decent zombie movie should be. Of course, what do I know? I’m too close to it now, it’s over to the audience.
9 years after "Freak Out" came "Stalled". Do you have any plans for another feature yet or is it too soon?
Yes, oh god yes. We tried many times to get another film going but timing was never on our side. We got very, VERY close to one movie back in 2009, then, weeks from production, the global recession started so we got NOTHING instead. The investor didn’t hand over the readies, so the entire movie got cancelled. You either get angry and give up or carry on, marching onwards.
Before calling it, we're curious what your favorite horror movies are?
Erm, erm, erm... All the classics you’d expect.. "Psycho 4: The Beginning", "Jaws: The Revenge", "Poltergeist 3: The Other Side", "The Howling: Original Nightmare", "The Exorcist: Dominion" and "The Beginning"... Man, a real toss up between those gems.
Outside of horror, what are some favorites?
Oh crumbs, this could be a loooooong and varied list, I’m going to need time to think about it.
Thank you for wanting to do this interview with us! Any last words, links, etc.?
Yes, Twitter: @stalledmovie
Thanks for asking and supporting the movie.