We did an interview with the director of "Stalled" (Christian James), so why not do one with the incredibly funny screenwriter and actor, Dan Palmer!? We're big fans of this guy ever since "Freak Out", and even enjoyed him in the oddest-of-the-odd web series "MugBop". Even in his broadest hours he's a genuinely funny guy and with the zombie movie "Stalled" he's certainly gonna be noticed by masses! Or hopefully, at least.
We're jumping straight into this. We asked Christian James how you guys first met, so now I'm gonna ask you what your first thoughts of Christian were?
We met at the Bournemouth & Poole College of Art & Design. We were the two youngest students in 'Audio/Visual Design' which was a preliminary BTEC course for the college's prestigious 'Film & TV' course... which neither of us got into.
It was the mid-nineties so Christian was all Jurassic Parked up. I hadn't seen it, as that Summer I had saved up tokens in The Mirror to see a preview screening and they never sent me my free tickets! It soured the deal for me and for some bizarre reason I thought my not going would teach Universal Studios a lesson. CJ was enraged that I had yet to see it and marched me down to the local cinema. In return I let him accompany me to see "So, I Married an Axe Murderer". MY "Jurassic Park"! He also began crashing at my house and watching all my terrible VHS horror movies. His willingness to watch studio sheen AND straight-to-video dreck, whilst everyone else at college only watched Tarantino, was impressive. To be fair he was pilled up most of the time.
When did you get interested in movies and how did that eventually transfer into
Seeing "Ghostbusters" as a sperm and realising that Dr. Raymond Stantz also wrote the damn thing.
You've done some smaller roles in things like Edgar Wright's "A Fistful of Fingers", Jake West's "Evil Aliens" and that odd movie "Small Town Folk". How did you come in contact with these, and how was your experience on them?
The very first person who directed me on film was Joe Cornish. He came to my school and shot a short college film. They took over the building and, with adult hindsight, bullshitted the faculty quite a bit. This obviously impressed me so when I left school I applied to the same college. I got in and that is where I met Edgar who was in the year above me. I think we got on as I was probably the only person there that was geekier and lonelier than him. This was before the next horror boom so we were really the only folks there that were into Landis, Raimi, Romero etcetera. He would lend me horror guides and I couldn't believe that they actually made books about slasher movies! In turn I would lend him some of those previously mentioned terrible VHSs. I distinctly recall lending him "The Stuff" (which he liked) and "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" (which he didn't). "Fistful" was shooting mostly back in Somerset but he shot a few bits in Poole, so he threw me in as an extra. He would also show me rough footage on the college's beat up movie-ola and then I eventually saw the finished thing at The Prince Charles. I am in it for a 69th of a second, but the truly rewarding aspect was observing a 16mm feature being put together and that encouraged me to make "Freak Out". When that was done I sent a copy to Jake West as I had seen a spot on late night TV about "Razor Blade Smile". Jake loved the film and was shooting "Evil Aliens" so asked me to provide a cameo.
I don't know how to phrase this any better: what the fuck happened to MugBop!? Can you tell us a bit about that project (MugBop) overall?
Oh God. That. Hahahaa, well I had been in "Small Town Folk" for Pete Stanley-Ward and Chris Wright and I was getting bored waiting for the next film to get off the ground so I thought it would be cool to get together with those guys and do a fun little web-series. I loved the Michael Cera and Clark Duke show "Clarke & Michael" and "Wainy Days" and it was supposed to be more like those... a bit like "Louie" ... before "Louie". A very dry account of the life and times of a shit mugger. Our producer thought it should be more silly so I goofed it up and made it very broad... that same producer then bailed after the first episode and we were left with a style I wasn't particularly happy with and a rudderless ship! With hindsight I don't know why I made those changes as I was the one that got the budget!
The editing process became a clusterfuck too and actually became way more complicated than it should of been. What was meant to be a fun disposable exercise became more of a headache than making a feature! The best thing that came out of it was the theme tune. One of my favourite films is Todd Solondz' Happiness and I managed to get Eytan Mirsky, who wrote the amazing title theme for that film AND for "American Splendor", to do the "Mugbop" theme! Hit it up on YouTube, watch the intro sequence then turn it off. Hahaa..
We became aware of you in the great "Freak Out". In that you play Onkey, a very... peculiar guy - how far from (or close to) Onkey are you as a person in real life?
Onkey was like my ID. He was me at that age if I didn't have a filter. I also watched a lot of Dean Cameron films for inspiration... namely "Ski School" and "Summer School".
"Freak Out" is 10 years old this year - any plans for it?
Well, we got the rights back last year. For some reason Anchor Bay/Starz didn't want them! Haha! So, maybe off the heat of "Stalled" a hip indie label might want to do an anniversary DVD? I wouldn't recommend a Blu-Ray though, that 16mm grain is pretty unforgiving.
It seems like "Freak Out" was the ultimate early start where every funny idea imaginable was put into it, yet somehow it worked without being too excessive. How was the writing process on a movie like that which is constantly a joke? Was there a lot of improvisation on it?
It was the opposite of "Stalled". CJ and I just threw in joke after joke after joke. If we thought up something stupid the night before, whilst watching a shit movie, we would throw it in a scene the next day. The script for the whole 'Blair Witch; The Play' segment was handed to the actors on hand-written scraps of paper. We wrote too much and were not disciplined at all, hence the wealth of deleted scenes on the DVD. It is ironic how we shot "Stalled" digitally and have hardly any deleted footage yet the film we shot on celluloid could have been three hours long!
Okay, I don't want to dig too far into the old stuff as much as I love "Freak Out", so let's move onto "Stalled". It got onto our Best of 2013 list (as you know), and the release date is upcoming. Tell us a bit about the release - date, distributor, extras, etc.?
First of all thank you for that! We were listed on quite a few Best of 2013 lists, it's crazy! Extremely flattering! "Stalled" hits UK DVD and Blu-Ray on February 17th via Matchbox Films, you should be able to pick it up at ASDA and order it on Amazon etcetera. We've got some great special features. Our storyboards, by Natasha Saville, were beautiful so we have two storyboard-to-screen comparison featurettes which are sweet as well as the trailer, a forty five minute Behind the Scenes and two commentaries. One is by the producers Richard and Daniel and the other is myself and Christian chatting with TV beefcake Rick Edwards.
What's was the major difference between making this and "Freak Out"?
Time. "Freak Out" had no deadline, we shot whenever we wanted and we weren't beholden to anyone. Hence the shoot took four years. The "Stalled" shoot was fifteen DAYS. I recall on the end of the first day CJ mentioned that we had fallen a little bit behind and I said 'That's fine, I don't mind filming through the night' - everyone looked at me like I was retarded. I realised, then and there, we were doing one of those 'proper' films.
You wrote the script for "Stalled". What do you feel Christian added to it as a director, that you wouldn't/hadn't have been able to do yourself?
Well, he was the one that came up with a set of visual rules. From the moment my character becomes trapped in the cubicle you can only see things that could concievably be witnessed by me. That gave him even stricter parameters but it certainly made the film more claustrophobic. He also cut out a lot of chuffa, as Bruce Willis would call it, a week or two before shooting which streamlined the script and also made the film realistically achievable. Also working at such break neck speed it would have been difficult for me as a performer to work with someone I hardly knew, we communicated with a short hand that enabled us to move swiftly.
As funny as the movie is, it's also quite sad at times. Do you think added dramatic themes enhances the comedy, rather than just going all out funny like you did in "Freak Out"?
Well, "Freak Out" is a cartoon. With that film I was very much influenced by some of my favourite underrated horror themed comedies. Namely "Return of the Killer Tomatoes", National Lampoon's "Class Reunion", "Bloodbath at the House of Death", "Student Bodies" and "Wacko"... which I absolutely adore. "Stalled" is a completely different kettle of fish, we wanted real concerns, real dilemmas, real peril. You cannot achieve that with Frank Drebin... you can with Serpico.
"Stalled" has been very well received. Has it opened any doors for you and the team?
Do you have any fun or interesting stories from the festival circuit?
When at FrightFest CJ and I were convinced we were like some 'Carrie at the prom' joke and we were waiting for the bucket of blood to fall. Like, maybe Alan Jones and the guys all pick a film they hate for all the FrightFesters to laugh at. A film festival version of "Dinner for Schmucks". There was one point when Alan was taking us up in an elevator to an interview and the elevator accidentally went to his hotel room - the look in CJ's eyes said 'So, this is where we pay!' Luckily it didn't come to that! It turned out Alan truly loved the film. He and the Film4 FrightFest gang have been wonderful to us and the audiences have been amazing.
We know you're not done with "Stalled" yet as it's about to be released (it's only the beginning, I'm guessing), but we have to ask - what's in store next? Any projects, acting jobs, etc.?
I'd love to say we are already in the midst of something but alas, no. I am a pretty prolific writer so have a number of screenplays that are ready to go, but there is nothing moving at this juncture. Fucking annoying.
Thank you for doing this interview with us! Do you have anything you want to add or promote?
Thank you for your time! Don't forget to pick up the DVD on February 17th! American readers can grab it on March 4th and it is already on VOD and iTunes over there too. You can follow me on Twitter at: @QuirkyDanPalmer and the movie at: @StalledMovie