Film Bizarro came to recognize Vince D’Amato when he went into production for his noir-grindhouse double-feature “The Hard Cut”. It wouldn’t be until several years later that we would finally be able to see the movie, and the one thing that was most noticeable about the film, was Vince’s interesting way of experimenting with genre films. And after watching his giallo inspired films, “Reversed” and “Glass” (which made our Best of 2015 list), we thought it was time to find out more about Vince and his unique filmmaking style.
First, I want to say thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us, Vince. I think some of our readers are familiar with who you are, not just because we’ve covered your work, but because you’ve been involved with the underground/independent horror community for over 16 years. But do you mind if we take a step back and talk about your background and how you got started in filmmaking?
I don't mind at all! Actually, my background was, and always had been, in writing. I became hugely interested in writing in high school after reading Stephen King's "The Stand", and took a year of creative writing in high school in my senior year and then studied a year of creative writing in university. At the time, I was interested in writing novels and short stories, and had my first short published while I was at uni. My genre was always horror. After that year of university I wrote several horror novels, but I was young, just starting out. I didn't really know what I was doing. I then tried my hand at scriptwriting, foolishly thinking that I might be able to make a quick screenplay sale in order to support my novel-writing habit, that wasn't getting me anywhere. I showed this screenplay to a good friend of mine, at the time, her name was Tarja Ridgewell (fist name pronounced Tar-ee-ah), who asked me, "why don't you just shoot this yourself?" Until then, it honestly had never occurred to me to do that!
You started the company Creepy Six Films back around 2000. Did you already have a plan in place for the company or was it created more so out of necessity for your first feature, “Corpse-O-Rama”?
Truthfully, I had always envisioned Creepy Six Films as our studio, something that was going for the long haul. What that long haul was going to entail, I of course couldn't know. Creepy Six Films was never intended to be one of those companies created for legal logistics and ownership of a single film.
What’s it like looking back at making “Corpse-O-Rama”? Any fondness for it or is it one of those projects you view more as a learning experience than anything else?
Practice. We call that one our practice film. But yes, definitely some fondness; we made some friends on that film that are still friends of ours today.
Since you call “Corpse-O-Rama” your practice film and because you basically dove head-first into filmmaking, is there one piece of advice that you wish you could give your younger self or any aspiring filmmakers? That one thing that makes you say, “If I had known that, I would have saved myself so much time or frustration.”
No, my mind doesn't actually think that way - I always looked back at the experience in making the films as very valuable lessons, we learned something on every film we've make, and I'm still learning, every film is a new experience. And everyone will have their own experiences. If you don't go through the frustrations, you can't learn. My advice to new filmmakers is usually the same: Do everything yourself so that you can learn all the aspects of cinema storytelling - write, shoot, direct, edit your movie if you can. And don't over-shoot. I've seen countless films, even short films, left unfinished because the filmmaker got lost in hours and hours of footage.
While I haven’t seen "Corpse-O-Rama" myself I did see a familiar name in the credits: Rob Carpenter. An actor, writer, and filmmaker that you’ve collaborated with many times over the years and continue to. Was "Corpse-O-Rama" the first movie you worked on with Rob or had you known/worked with him before?
No, "Corpse-O-Rama" was the film we'd met on, he came in and auditioned for us, that's when we met. 1999. We finished the movie in 2000.
The next credit in your filmography (according to IMDB) is producer, camera-operator, editor, writer — basically, a little bit of everything — for the rape-revenge short film, “Torched” that was directed by Ryan Nicholson. The short was co-produced by Creepy Six Films, along with Plotdigger Films, and was featured on your second anthology film, “Hell Hath No Fury”. How did this collaboration come about?
That is a HUGE question because while some sources obviously note this credit as the second in my filmography “Hell Hath No Fury” was actually my fourth film. Ryan Nicholson and I were introduced by a mutual friend, at that time we were in the middle of producing “Carmilla” (aka “Vampires vs Zombies”) in 2001, and after meeting and hitting it off, Ryan came on to do all of the special effects for the end of that film. We then collaborated on our next film, “Human Nature”, again Ryan did the special effects, this time for the entire film. While we were producing “Human Nature”, Rob Carpenter and I had come up with an idea for an anthology feature film, where different filmmakers would each direct one segment of the film. During one of the shooting days for “Human Nature”, Ryan and I had some downtime, we were sitting together outside of the location and he suddenly turned to me and asked me if he could do a short story for one of the “Hell Hath No Fury” segments. And that's how that started.
As you mentioned already, you brought on other directors for the “Hell Hath No Fury” project which included Rob Carpenter, Peter Speers, and Ryan Nicholson. With “Corpse-O-Rama”, you wrote and directed all the segments for that. How was it bringing in other people to help create the segments for the various installments for the movie? What kind of challenges did you face with having other people involved?
It was a fantastic and memorable experience, I personally loved it. There was so much cross-collaboration, different directors directing other filmmaker's characters, writing each others scripts and cross-producing. Each director financed their own segment, but we all produced all of the segments together. It was an amazingly collaborative shoot, and we all loved it, were were all there to support each other and to help make the best stories we possibly could at the time. Ryan and I actually had a friendly competition as to who could outdo each other on the horror/cringe level. My segment was "Prey", his was "Torched". He won.
You would go on to work with Nicholson again on “Live Feed”. What was it like working on that project?
That was intense. I was Second Unit Director, B-Camera Operator, and Editor. It was his first feature film, that was my fifth. Ryan was not prone to listening to advice. It was a hard shoot, all nights, we were all tired, and when I delivered the first assembly cut to him and his producer (who is also his dad) Roy, they shit all over it and freaked out. It took a lot of meetings, and a lot of time and work to get the film to where it was finally a good director's cut. It was some of the best work I'd ever done up to that point, and it launched Ryan's well-deserved career. I think more people know my work from “Live Feed” than from any of the Creepy Six Films!
Ha! Well, on that note, I kind of hate to bring up “Live Feed” again but I find it interesting that out of all of the Nicholson’s movies, “Live Feed” is something that’s still making the rounds. It received a special edition release from Plotdigger themselves, but also two VHS releases, and most recently, a blu-ray release from SRS Cinema. What’s it like seeing this movie that you helped make so many years ago continue to find its way out into the world?
Well, being the editor, I've seen this film more than anyone else on the planet. However, the last time I saw this film, was at the cast & crew screening at the Cinematheque in Vancouver in 2005. Oh actually, that's not true, I saw it once more when I had to deliver the International materials later that fall in 2005. I've actually never seen “Live Feed” since it's been commercially released, but I love that it still has a life!
Again, according to what information I had about your timeline/filmography, you kept yourself busy with numerous projects after “Torched”. You made two feature films: “Carmilla, the Lesbian Vampire” and “Human Nature”. You also made some short films: “Heads Are Gonna Roll” (featuring Brink Stevens) and “Sex & Death 1977”. You also worked on Necrophagia’s “Nightmare Scenarios” and “Sickcess”. What was it like having so many projects going in such a short period of time?
I'll answer this question with the TRUE timeline of projects: “Corpse-O-Rama” (2000) - “Carmilla” aka “Vampires vs Zombies” aka “Carmilla the Lesbian Vampire” (shot 2002, released 2004, re-released in 2008) - “Heads Are Gonna Roll” (shot 2002, released 2004 - re-released in 2008, produced in the middle of “Carmilla”) - “Human Nature” (shot 2003, released 2004) - “Nightmare Scenarios” and “Sickcess” (2004) - “Hell Hath No Fury / Torched” (shot 2004-2005, released 2006) “Live Feed” (2005, released 2006) - “Sex & Death 1977” (shot 2005, released in 2008) - “The Hard Cut” (shot 2008, released 2012)
Ah, okay. Thanks for correcting me on the actual timeline of your projects since, according to IMDB (proof as to why you should never rely on them for correct information), it looked like you had made all of your films within a 2 year period. But, now that I’ve made myself look like an idiot, how did you become involved with Necrophagia and making “Nightmare Scenarios” and “Sickcess”?
Killjoy from Necrophagia was a good friend with Ryan Nicholson at the time — Ryan got me that job.
This is probably a stupid question, but since “Nightmare Scenarios” and “Sickcess” are movie/music video hybrids. Was it any different making those in comparison to your other productions?
I really just edited those films. Ryan and Killjoy would shoot and bring the footage directly to me in the editing suite we were renting at the time. I didn't leave that suite for a week! Editing them was not really different, no, you work with the type of footage you have.
In regards to “Carmilla, the Lesbian Vampire”, if I remember correctly, it was first released as “Vampires vs. Zombies” but the movie had been recut by the distributor. What was that experience like and were you happy when an uncut version of the movie was finally released (under the “Carmilla” title) through Unearthed Films?
The experience was insane. At that time, in 2004, it was one of the biggest-selling titles The Asylum (our distributor) had ever seen. It went to over ten countries internationally, and there were three copies of our movie in every Blockbuster in the world. But, because this success was due to The Asylum's marketing savvy, as filmmakers, we also suffered the consequences of the misleading title. Very few people actually liked the movie, and rightfully so — there were no vampires vs. zombies. It was shot as a post-modern take on “Carmilla”. Personally, I still really like that movie. I was very happy with Unearthed Films' re-release, and they crammed so many special features onto that disc! They were really great to us.
Incidentally, now that both of those contracts have reverted back to us, Creepy Six Films is now selling a very limited edition (999 numbered copies) of a double-DVD version of Carmilla, which contains both the Asylum and the Unearthed Films DVD, available as of January this year - in celebration of our 15th Anniversay!
Along with the feature and short films you were producing, you also created two web series back in 2010-2011: “The Renfield Syndrome” and “Catholic Cheerleaders for Satan”. A lot of filmmakers are now moving towards mini-series as opposed to feature films since web-media seems to be where we are heading in terms of entertainment. But what made you decide to shoot those two projects as a mini-series back then?
Those two web-series were produced to help support our feature film at that time, “The Hard Cut”. Both of the web-series stories weave meta-fictionally into “The Hard Cut”.
Again, I have to ask, when you’re making something that you know is intended to be a series, does the production or how you go about producing a project change or is it simply the distribution platform that changes?
Just the distribution platform, really.
Your next project, or projects rather, became the double-feature “The Hard Cut”. Originally it was going to be one film but, I’m assuming, during pre-production you decided to shoot two movies back to back: “The Hard Cut” and “I Woke Up Screaming the Day I Died”. What were the challenges of shooting two movies simultaneously and in hindsight do you wish you would have stuck with making just one movie?
Everything in your initial assumptions are true. It was conceived as a single film but developed into two project during pre-production. There were really no challenges in shooting them simultaneously, originally it was all written as one big film, then split apart when we felt there was just too much material to shoot, then re-conceived as two separate films... and then re-edited back into a single film, but double-feature style, which was obviously influenced by “Grindhouse”. In hindsight, I'm glad we didn't stick with just one of them. Believe me, there was plenty of discussion in doing that, even after we shot both of the films. Now, I'm glad that it is what it is.
It seems like it took awhile before “The Hard Cut” had a domestic release but it did have a release overseas before it became available here. What’s it like trying to distribute an independent project in a foreign market?
I wanted to try to get it into the foreign market theatrically, as opposed to all of the direct-to-video releases we'd been releasing over the years. I chose the foreign market because we'd always been better received in Europe and the UK since we stared. In the end, I had to create a new film festival anyway, in order to get “The Hard Cut” screened theatrically - but this was a good thing. We launched an all-Canadian genre film fest in London, UK in 2012.
You’ve started a secondary production company — Brivido Giallo. Do you mind telling us a little bit about the company and why you decided to start a new company for these other films?
Brivido Giallo was originally started in 2011 to produce new films in Europe — specifically, in London, UK (where my wife and I were going to be moving) and around Italy, where our music composer/collaborator Mickey E.Vil lives. I planned to film three feature films in Europe, and with a very Italian/Giallo style, something that was going to be — and is — completely different from the horror/experimental/noir films we'd produced through Creepy Six Film from 2002 up to that point.
You’ve already made two features under the Brivido Giallo banner with the first being, “Reversed” — a non-linear, experimental giallo film. I guess my first question about “Reversed” is why did you choose to make an experimental film? Granted you went the non-linear route and experimented with the structure in “The Hard Cut” but, in my opinion, “Reversed” is an entirely different beast.
Yes, thank you for saying that, “Reversed” really is different. Mainly, with the Brivido Giallo films, I have tried to go down a far more visually-oriented style of storytelling, as opposed to our previously dialogue-heavy films (from Creepy Six Films). Brian DePalma was always a great influence on me, his works were one of the key inspirations to me overall, and I decided I would try to experiment with taking the elongated, visually striking aspects of films such as his, and Argento's, and several other thriller filmmakers, and try to extend the solely visual aspect, or trope if you will, into an entire thriller-feature. I really couldn't see any reason why that wouldn't work, why you couldn't connect with an audience on a strictly visual level, with no dialogue at all.
Reversed official trailer (2013) from Vince D'Amato on Vimeo.
I think it’s safe to say that a movie like “Reversed”, and the follow-up, “Glass”, are rather niche because the style in which they were shot and edited. These movies appear to have a free-form style — it’s as if the movies are building themselves while you watch them. Are you or were you concerned with this style possibly limiting your audience?
Not at all. In fact, I never even considered it until you brought it up just now.
There was a great deal of focus put on the music that was used in “Reversed” and you worked with Mickey E. Vil and Dick Wagner to produce the score. Why was the music so important to you and for this movie?
From the get-go I knew that doing a visual-only film like “Reversed” would mean building the rhythm of storytelling in a new way — to me, I thought of it like writing a symphony. I even told this to the actors involved in “Reversed”. So, the “Reversed” symphony was going to have to have all aspects of it composed as such, the music and sound design included. Mickey brought Dick Wagner on to help produce, that was all his doing. Mickey fully understands the visual/audible scope of the films we are producing now. Its a real creative partnership. It's fantastic.
Maybe it’s just me but “Glass” felt very different from “Reversed”. Like, “Reversed” has very distinct giallo influences where as “Glass” is more subtle. Both movies focus on the psychological dynamic of the main character but that aspect also feels like its handled differently. What was your thought process when you were making “Glass”? Did you want to make something that was different but thematically similar?
“Reversed” was influenced by me trying to devise a film that would totally suit the idea of shooting in European locations. “Glass”, on the other hand, was influenced by my surroundings in Vancouver, BC, a couple of months after my wife Nicki and I had moved back to the city from Europe in 2012. I wrote “Glass” before I had finished editing “Reversed” in Vancouver. This might go to show how much of the outer surroundings and environment influences the works of Brivido Giallo.
Glass Official Trailer [HD] from Vince D'Amato on Vimeo.
“Reversed” and “Glass” are part of Brivido Giallo’s experimental neo-giallo trilogy with “Los Vampires Sexuales” being the third and final film. Is there something that ties these three together besides being experimental giallo films?
The influence, I would say. The influence of European filmmakers such as Sergio Martino, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Dario Argento, Tinto Brass, and of course many others.
I imagine it’s challenging for actors being in movies like “Reversed” and “Glass” because they require a different kind of performance. In the case of Tirra Dent in “Glass”, I genuinely admired her performance since she really put herself out there in that role. When it comes to actors, is it a different process with movies like these in comparison to a more traditional movie?
Absolutely. To start, I never hold "auditions" anymore, I would much rather just Email a performer the script and then meet with them one-on-one, in person, to discuss how they felt about the project, what it brought out of them, and what they feel they could bring to it in return. It's far more conversational and far less traditionally an audition. I meet with actors in bars and coffee shops now, and simply discuss. No audition, no camera test. This is how I cast both films.
Do you think you will continue on with the experimental style or do you want there to be a distinct difference in the movies that are produced by Brivido Giallo?
Actually, I can't say for sure. Right now, I'm happy with continuing in the style of the experimental films of Brivido Giallo. However, that being said, the new film we're about to embark on is clearly different -- set in Vancouver, it's two-thirds dialog-heavy before heading back into what I call "Vince territory". (This is our new film "VALLEY OF THE RATS", which will be going into production late April).
Note: "Valley of the Rats" has an IndieGoGo campaign. If you wish to find out more about the project, or wish to contribute, please visit the campaign at: https://igg.me/at/valley2016/
While “Los Vampires Sexuales” is the final film in the experimental neo-giallo trilogy, your next project is “The Valley of the Rats”. What can you tell us about the project?
That it is heavily influenced by the great Canadian genre filmmaker David Cronenberg, by what is going on in the city of Vancouver right now, and by my favourite genre of all: the Italian Giallo.
Well, I was sold on “Valley of the Rats” just because it’s a new project of yours. Now that I know it’s influenced by Cronenberg, I may have a biased love for the movie already. As of right now, when we conducted this interview, you’ve announced that Dan Ellis has joined the cast and you’ve also cast Tristan Risk. Anything else you’d like to announce about the movie now?
Well, nearly the entire film has been cast now, and we'll be announcing the cast and crew soon. We're also working with a new Executive Producer now, David Aboussafy
You and producer William Carne have started a crowdfunding campaign for “The Valley of the Rats” through IndieGoGo. Crowdfunding still seems to be a hot button topic amongst independent creators. For someone who’s been making films independently for so long, what are your thoughts on the matter?
My thoughts are simply this: We're setting out to make a film. Films cost money. Do I expect someone else to fund these whims? No. But, people like me love movies. I pay for movies. We pay for movies. This time around, we have just put the option out there to pre-purchase the film if they think it's cool. It's no riskier (from our campaign) than buying the movie ticket before you've seen the show. But any dollar that we receive from our contributors is any dollar I don't have to borrow from somewhere else. For us, it's just far more direct, supplier to buyer. I was never any good at asking for money, so our campaign is simply, "hey, here's our film -- want a copy of it?"
We’ve talked about your films but your work goes beyond filmmaking. You’re the director/programmer for Shivers Film Society. You work with the Vancouver Badass Film Festival as well as the Cinemafantastique Festival. You are constantly working with independent filmmakers from the area in some manner — Creepy Six is the distributor for the movie “Computer Hearts” and you recently finished working on the short film, “Out of My Skin”, from Nadine L’Esperance . You also use to write an extensive retrospective on the work of Jess Franco. I guess what I’m getting at is when do you sleep? Or rather, do you even sleep? Because I have my doubts about that.
Well, to answer your question directly, yes, I sleep. I try to get 7-8 hours a night. Once every couple of weeks, I'll get 4-5 hours. But to answer your question contextually, I really just love doing this. Recently, my wife Nicki has come back to working for our film commitments and I think she's getting some enjoyment out of it, too.
The process of submitting your film to a festival can be a disheartening experience for a lot of filmmakers from being rejected. As someone who’s submitted his own work to festivals, while helping to program festivals as well. Do you find it hard to separate your filmmaker side with your programmer side when it comes to accepting/rejecting films for a festival?
As odd as this might sound, no, it's not hard to separate. As a filmmaker, I will always retain a certain empathy towards filmmakers and the films they've put their passions into. But as a film programmer, I find it increasingly easy to program, especially as with our Cinemafantastique Fest we are clear in maintaining a certain pathos that appeals to the sophisticated and the lowbrow.
It’s clear that you have a love for Italian cinema and it reflects in your work, not to mention, you’ve already pointed out some of your influences. So this might be kind of a tricky question, but what is it about Italian cinema that you derive so much inspiration from?
Firstly, I discovered the films of Dario Argento at a young age — I was nineteen. Secondly, I am actually Italian, but born in Canada. Italy retains a sort of foreign and cinematically exotic disposition while most of my family actually lives there. I love the culture, and I love the cinematic culture, and to a certain degree, I really believe it's in my blood. It is in my blood. I love Italy and Italian cinema.
To go back just a bit; you had mentioned that you started out writing short stories and novels and dabbled a little bit in screenplay writing before you took on directing. Have you thought about getting back into writing (non-screenplays)?
Yes, actually, I just finished a book titled "5 Movies, 5 Days, 5 Bucks", which is a look back over the final decade of the video store industry and how it affected low-budget films and indie filmmakers. ...And a Canadian publisher has one of my fiction novels right now, they're hanging onto it but they haven't published it yet. It's a bloody and somewhat humourous revenge thriller. Which reminds me, I should find out what's going on with that! As for the film book, I'm not sure if I should go the traditional publishing route with that one or hit the E-book market right away. I'd like it to come out soon.
Again, you’ve been working on independent films for sometime now. What has it been like watching the landscape change over the years?
Like all great storytellers, you've concluded this story with a question that opens up and infinity of possible answers. This will lead into a huge discussion. So instead, let's end here, and know that what I've learned from this ever-changing landscape is this: Make movies because you want to make movies. Be true to your art. Don't stop learning. Don't stop learning about yourself. DO stop worrying about what other people think. You'll know when you measure the value of your own success, and i.e. the value of your own art. Be honest. That way, other people won't be able to fuck with you. Just be you.
What a great note to end on. But before we go, first, I just want to thank you again for taking the time to talk with us. We always appreciate any and all artists who are willing to speak with us and is willing to let us, and our readers, take a peak behind the door of a person’s work. Secondly, is there anything else you’d like to say or any projects you’d like to plug?
I'd love to mention that this year is Creepy Six Films' 15th anniversary, and Brivido Giallo's 5th anniversary. Thanks so much, Preston! It was fun!