Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Gabriel Carrer on In the House of Flies


[Canadian indie director Gabriel Carrer’s indie horror In the House of Flies is one of the more cerebral and disturbing entries in the abduction horror genre. Parts of this interview appeared at nightflight,com]

Richard Whittaker: So what was the origin of the project, and what drew you to it in the first place?

Gabriel Carrer: Well, Angus McLellan wrote it back in the year 2001. It was before the Saw franchise even existed, and he wrote it in film school as a piece he could direct. I didn’t know him back then, but ten years later he and I got close, and I was itching to do a project, but I didn’t have any investors or funders at the time. So I said, I just want to dive into something, do you a script? He goes, I have this one script. I think it was originally entitled The Hole, and it was a lot different. It was a basement, but it was more of a hole. So I read the script in one night, and just went, ‘this is great. We can totally do this for no money. We change a few things, we make it into a basement,’ and he was like, sure.

I wanted to do something heavy on relationships and dialog, and I think as a director you need to practice all kinds of mediums, and this was one medium that was lacking in my life. Exercising that muscle of just two people in a room, talking. There are so many movies that have done it, so it was something that I wanted to do. That was what drew me to it, that there are two people in a room, and how you can make that interesting for 85 minutes. The camera angles, and all that stuff, you’re really learning as a director, and that’s where the project drew me in, because I knew it would be challenging to do.

Continue reading Interview: Gabriel Carrer on In the House of Flies

Interview: Adam West (2011)

What’s the difference between being typecast and becoming a pop culture icon? For Adam West, it all comes down to a knowing wink to the audience. In 1966 he went from bit-part actor in TV shows and spaghetti westerns to getting a dream role: To bring a four-color version of DC’s Batman to TV. It’s hard to overestimate the show’s impact on pop culture and on West. The producers cranked out 120 episodes and one 90 minute film of knockabout dayglo fun in under three years, creating catchphrases that resonate with people who have never seen the show and boxing West into a niche as campy, hammy actor. It’s been almost 46 years since the Batman film got its world premier, and it seems that West has finally made peace with the role that defined his career. Now the circle is complete: Instead of him being associated with Batman, Batman stands in his shadow as he has become the ultimate post-modern film star.  “The movie has withstood the test of time,” he said, “And so have I.”


Richard Whittaker: Between the film, the original series, and cameos in cartoons, Batman has been part of your life for four decades. How did you get the part?

Adam West: I’d been in Europe doing some films (including The Relentless Four) after doing a series (The Detectives) here with the late Robert Taylor for NBC. Before I left, I did a series of commercials for Nestlé in which I did sort of a James Bond spoof. I found out late that the producers at Fox and ABC had seen those commercials, and evidently I impressed them in so far as they thought, “Hey, this is the turkey to play Batman.” I think they liked my sense of humor. You might too, if you get to know me. Continue reading Interview: Adam West (2011)

Interview: Davis Guggenheim on Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

(In 2010 I interview Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud, about his education documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’, for the Austin Chronicle.)

Richard Whittaker: What was your intention when you started making Waiting for ‘Superman,and how did it change during filming?

Davis Guggenheim: It’s amazing when you start doing press for a movie, and you start to realize these things you didn’t know. And I just thought of this right now, this idea that it’s a horror movie, and you wonder who the killer is, and you realize the killer is you. I went and said, “I’m going to find out what the real forces are behind our broken schools,” and I’m a lefty, I’m a Democrat, and I believe in unions, but I realized that the Democratic party, my party, hasn’t been doing what it should have been doing because it’s been getting money from the teachers’ unions to ignore the problems, to ignore the kids they should have been serving. I believe that unions are essential, and I’m part of a great union, and I was with my dad shooting documentaries in coal mines talking about the dignity of the worker, but the unions are this weird force that’s keeping our schools down.

RW: How does that work in Texas, where unions are effectively castrated, and teachers, far from having tenure, are on year-to-year contracts?

DG: But in Texas you still have 206 drop-out factories, 206 high schools where more than 40% of kids don’t graduate, and I suspect that for every drop-out factory there are five or 10 other schools that are pushing their kids through so they can have a great education and be productive citizens. Even though Texas doesn’t share a lot of the things that other states share, there’s still a chronic problem that states have different standards, and we have these huge bureaucracies that determine where money goes, and it usually means it’s not going to the school. We still have all this wonkish ideology to determine what should be taught, and we still have no idea what it takes to make a great teacher, how to assess a great teacher. So I imagine that a lot of the problems are the same, even though across the border some of the contracts are different.

Continue reading Interview: Davis Guggenheim on Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

Interview: Emily Pyle on Burned (2010)

burnedSometimes there’s no feel-good ending when the underdog stands up to the powers that be, no matter how terrible the injustice. In 2007, former child inmate Joseph Galloway became the face of all the victims at the Texas Youth Commission: The terrible beatings and sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of staff and inmates at the Giddings State School made headlines, and his case turned out to be the first few rounds in a grueling fight to fix a broken state agency. After the police investigations started, big promises were made by lawmakers about fixing TYC and making amends to the thousands of children who had passed through its locked gates.

Continue reading Interview: Emily Pyle on Burned (2010)

Interview: TNA in 2008

(A little wrestling flashback here: in 2008, TNA Wrestling was the insurgent pro-wrestling promotion in America. Now it’s all but dead, and just about everyone interviewed here – Booker T., Christian, Robert Roode, and Eric Young – is now with the WWE in some context or other)

Backstage at the TNA Wrestling event at the Travis County Expo Center last Thursday, five-time WCW champion Booker T swept the curtain aside. Twenty minutes earlier, he’d been wiped out by a chair shot delivered by Robert Roode. He’d then stood in the ring and signed autographs with fans. In the dressing room, he grins.

“Another day at the office, baby,” he says before swapping compliments with Roode. The same Roode who tried to crack his skull in the ring.

Continue reading Interview: TNA in 2008

Interview: Weird Al Yankovic (2010)

weirdal(In 2010, Weird Al visited Austin to play the Fun Fun Fun Fest. It’s not often you get to interview a true cultural icon, but here’s a fragment of my Q&A with him for the Austin Chronicle.)


Richard Whittaker: When you visited Austin in May to screen your movie UHF, a lot of people were disappointed you didn’t sing.

Weird Al Yankovic: I just felt so terribly bad that they weren’t able to schedule an Austin show for our summer tour that when the opportunity to do Fun Fun Fun Fest came up, I jumped at it. We don’t normally do one-offs. We usually only do shows that are part of an extended tour, but this was something I really wanted to do.
Continue reading Interview: Weird Al Yankovic (2010)

Interview: John Halcyon Styn (2007)

John Halcyon Styn(In 2007, as part of a package I produced for the Austin Chronicle on the interface of cinema and the Internet, I talked to John Halcyon Styn: a multi-time Webby winner, he made his professional reputation as a business-to-business marketing and branding consultant for an adult Web company running. We talked about what the film industry, especially independent filmmakers, can learn from online porn as a distribution model.)

Richard Whittaker: Why has porn taken to the Web so strongly?

John Halcyon Styn: The adult industry doesn’t have the option to go through traditional channels, so they’ve been forced to innovate. There are not a lot of advertisers who are prepared to subsidize adult content. But they have a product that is so much better suited to get people to pull their wallet out, which is a greater incentive to take risks and try new technology. Video distribution via IP and download on demand are convenient for every part of life but are a godsend for a porn consumer. In the same way the VCR revolutionized our viewing habits and was pushed by the porn consumer who enjoyed the privacy of it, this just takes it to the next beautiful level. It’s a purely personal, private commerce.

Continue reading Interview: John Halcyon Styn (2007)

The Future of Film (As Seen in 2007)

(In 2008, I wrote this piece on the future of cinema and the Internet for the Austin Chronicle. So no surprise that some of the prognostications were way off target. However,  there’s some early wisdom about the way cinema was changing, including Arin Crumley and Susan Buice getting ahead of the curve on  predicting theatrical on demand.)

The Web was going to be a bottomless well of content. No matter what your interest, you could log on and find something to fit your tastes. And go as far as you’d like from there.

There’s a problem with that. Infinite is a big number. Audiences can’t browse online forever. Talented artists and content creators spent more time keeping up with software than actually creating content. Learn HTML; XML comes along. Master Shockwave; here comes Flash. When independent filmmakers finally get online, they’re competing for bandwidth with someone innovating new ways to drop Mentos into Coke.

The old days of a Web campaign for a film attracting audiences on novelty alone are over. According to Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative-media-studies program at MIT and a South by Southwest Interactive 07 speaker, “It’s no longer the case that, if you build it, they will come. If you drop your film on YouTube and do nothing around it, it will get buried under a billion other videos.” Instead, filmmakers are finding success in reaching out to online communities, and firms are developing new Web tools to build and maintain those links.

Continue reading The Future of Film (As Seen in 2007)

Interview: Simon Barrett

There aren’t many famous scriptwriters in the horror community, but Simon Barrett is undoubtedly one. Starting with the (in)famous Frankenfish, Barrett’s character-centric approach to the genre (especially with his long-time collaborator Adam Wingard) have become critical faves, with You’re Next and The Guest making many best-of and end-of-year lists. The first time I interviewed him for the Austin Chronicle was at Fantastic Fest in  2010, when he had just won the best script award  for his radical new take on the serial killer genre, A Horrible Way to Die. The impromptu interview took place in the hallway at the Alamo South Lamar.


Richard Whittaker: It’s a pretty unique take on serial killers: Where did the story come from?

Simon Barrett: We got a couple of false starts of trying get projects financed that [Adam] would direct and I would write and produce, and he was getting kinda frustrated. He’d say, ‘Serial killer movies always get made,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want to write a serial killer movie.’ I don’t like most of them, and between Se7en and Zodiac, David Fincher‘s said all there is to say on that subject. They’re all either procedurals or ‘inside the mind of a psychopath,’ which I don’t enjoy and I don’t think it’s possible to do effectively.

But he started talking about Ted Bundy, and how he escaped from prison and was thought to be hunting for his ex-girlfriend. That got me thinking about something that excited me, which is the idea of addictive love, and that serial killers are real people with parents and ex-girlfriends. If your kid grows up to be a serial killer, how do you trust a decision you’re going to make ever again? And if your ex-boyfriend turns out to be a serial killer, what’s it going to be like if you ever start dating again? Can you trust another human being?

Continue reading Interview: Simon Barrett

Interview: Gris Grimly (2008)

Gris Grimly Childhood is a difficult time – not least for parents stuck reading happy, cheery, all’s-well-with-the-world kid’s tales over and over again. That’s why they have Gris Grimly and his warped, wonderful children’s illustrations to be thankful for. The creator of the Wicked Nursery Rhymes series (the third volume of which sees print this summer), illustrator of vampire romance Boris and Bella and collaborator with Neil Gaiman on his recently-released The Dangerous Alphabet, has saved many parents from a saccharine bedtime story experience.

Growing up on a farm in the American Mid-West (that’s the only part of his early private life he will divulge, apart from the fact that he credits his parents with raising him well), Grimly describes himself as “a very imaginative kid. I didn’t play a lot of video games or watch a lot of TV. I spent a lot of time outside, pretending, making up worlds and living in them.” As a child with a fascination with the fantastic growing up away from major art galleries, he turned to comics and magazines. Attracted by its chaotic energy, he started ripping Ralph Steadman’s art out of issues of Rolling Stone.

But there was a problem. “I wasn’t really allowed to read most comics, so I would bike down to the gas station, buy comics, hide them in my study books, and read them in my room.” While many kids headed straight for the superhero section, Grimly was inspired by more alternative artists like Sam Keith (The Maxx), Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin) and Dave McKean (Cages, Batman: Arkham Asylum). But there was another, less dark inspiration: Berkeley Breathed, the newspaper cartoonist behind Bloom County and Opus. But the politics of his strips passed the young Grimly by. “I would buy all his books to study his art. Now I’m older I go back and read them, and realize the points he was making that I didn’t get because I was just interested in his cartooning.”

When he grew up, he kept his fascination with art, but never planned on being child-friendly. Instead, he wanted to draw horror comics, and his current career started accidentally. After graduating from college, Grimly was at a Steadman exhibition in Los Angeles, CA, where he started talking to one of the staff about a shared admiration for Edward Gorey. “She asked me if I did children’s books. I said no, but I could be interested. This gallery/bookstore was interested in doing limited edition projects with artists that would be like nine-page children’s books. Each one would be all original art and they’d sell them for a $1,000.” Taking Gorey as his inspiration, he worked on a series of demented morality tales. They started with the boy with a helium balloon for a head, who complains constantly about the problems having a balloon-head causes – until a bird lands on it, and solves his problems in a terminal way.

His agent showed the work around, and Hyperion Books came calling. In 2001 his first commission as a children’s illustrator, Marilyn Singer’s Monster Museum, saw print and word quickly spread in the publishing industry. “Once you get your first book published and exposed, it opens the floodgates. It’s like a calling card that does its own work,” said Grimly. His earlier ambition to move into comics got sidelined. “If I’d have got that one comic through the door, it would have opened that floodgate. But I got that one children’s book through the door, so it opened that particular floodgate instead.”

This doesn’t mean publishers who hire him for his dark and twisted style always like what they get first time. “I have been asked to tone it down. Sometimes there’re some arguments between me and an editor on what they want, and what I want, and how to meet in between.”

While Grimly’s career was kick-started in children’s books, he sees himself first and foremost as an artist who happens to have done some kids books. “I’m not necessarily a children’s illustrator as much as I like monsters and horror.” When talking about his contemporaries and peers that he admires, it’s not other children’s illustrators. It’s Eric Powell, creator of The Goon comic; retro-ghoul artist David Hartman (who counts Rob Zombie and Jack Black as fans); and Camille Rose Garcia, one of the highest-profile names in the burgeoning Low-Brow fine art movement. The only illustrator he mentions is Crab Scramley, who has his debut kid’s book The Floods in print this summer but made his reputation as an artist on Nightmares and Fairytales for Slave Labor Graphics.

They are part, Grimly argues, of an inadvertent scene, of artists with a shared love of monsters and ghoulies and the darker things in literature, who represent a change. In the same way that grunge was a reaction to glossy ‘80s pop, “maybe things did get a little too sugar-coated for kids in my generation, and you’ve got a reaction against that.” It’s not a deliberate attempt to create a movement, Grimly said. “I find that me and my friends will do a lot of the same artwork without seeing each other’s pieces, and that only goes to the point that we share a lot of the same influences and they’re swimming around in our brains.”

He’s also illustrated new editions of children’s classics, like Pinocchio and Sleepy Hollow, which has lead to work for a more mature audience with his adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (a second volume of which will be published early 2009.) But now, like his inspiration Dave McKean, he’s working with Neil Gaiman, the writer of DC’s Sandman and the novel Coraline. Their first collaboration, The Dangerous Alphabet, will be published on May 5. “It was really cool to work with an author I really respected,” said Grimly. “I got an email from his editor who said, Neil’s seen your art and is wondering whether you’d be interested in illustrating a book for him. I said, fuck, yeah.” For Grimly, this is a major point in his career. “I know what I like out of the authors I’ve worked with, but there’s never that response of, wow, I’m going to get to work with so-and-so until I worked with Neil.”
Not all his work is so child friendly. Cannibal Flesh Riot! is his debut mini-feature as director-writer. A tribute to 50’s drive-in horror, Ray Harryhausen and psycho-billy music, it’s the black-and-white tale of two redneck flesh-eating ghouls and their unfortunate final visit to the graveyard.

The movie, best described as Tex Avery’s Evil Dead, is an object lesson for filmmaking hopefuls in turning $6,000 into a fun little calling card. Mixing hyped-up live action, stop-motion, green screen, and a dash of CGI, it proves how available technology has become for film-makers. The straight-to-DVD release is ridiculously loaded, with two commentaries, trailers, a making-of featurette that holds the real secret for effective discount filmmaking (hint: have lots of like-minded friends who will work for food), and a bonus CD, all for $20.

While it maintains his sense of childishly blood-splattered glee, Grimly agrees it’s not just a jump in medium, “but I think also a jump with my audience. There’s nothing very horrible, it’s done very cartoonish, even though it’s live action: the characters, a better word is like comics. And they definitely have filthy mouths, which sets that movie for an older audience.”

The children’s side still remains. He has a new collection of twisted campfire tales, Sipping Spiders Through a Straw, which Grimly described as “the most disturbing book I’ve ever made.” It’s also been the longest-gestating, taking four years to complete. Part of the problem was finding that middle ground between himself and his editor. “There’s a song in there about jumping rope with your intestines and tying your sister up with them. They wanted me to portray kids playing with guts, and maybe it’s me and I’m more demented, but I saw it all bloody and gory, and I was saying, are you kidding, you want me to do this? In another one, to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but it’s Creepy, Creepy Thing in a Jar, I did a pickled punk, and they didn’t like that. I said, what are you talking about, we’ve got bloody intestines.”

That mixture of ghoulish and childish is what has won Grimly a massive young following, but also attracts adults who find squeamish joy in his drawings. For him, the trick is that he never tries to second-guess his readers. “I don’t approach these books and say, what do other children’s book look like, or what are children looking for, or what are editors looking for. I approach these books as, OK, what do I like and how can achieve that in this book. If I approve of what I do, I think other people who are my age or older or younger will approve.”