Today is a special day here at The Film Connoisseur, I have a very special something in store for you guys today! Thats right boys and girls, today Im giving you guys a break from my usual onslaught of awesome movie reviews. But you need not worry, its for a good reason! Today I bring you guys an exclusive interview with horror director extraordinaire Dante Tomaselli. Tomaselli is the indy horror director behind Desecration (1999), Horror (2002) and Satans Playground (2006). Dante was kind enough to fill us in on the status quo of his upcoming supernatural horror film Torture Chamber. So, strap yourselves on tight cause were gonna be taking a ride with Dante Tomaselli down his own personal Torture Chamber! On this exclusive interview, Dante Tomaselli shares his impressions on what it was like to make his fourth feature film and what we can expect from it. I want to thank Dante for doing this interview, its always an interesting experience to see how a directors mind works and where his films come from. Dante has just wrapped principal photography for Torture Chamber and is hard at work scoring and editing the film, yet he was kind enough to grant The Film Connoisseur an interview just a couple of days after he had finished filming. Hope you guys enjoy it! And remember to keep a look out for Torture Chamber which should be seeing the light of day sometime soon! And now, on with our interview:
The Film Connoisseur - This is your fourth feature film. How was this a different experience for you?
Dante Tomaselli- I felt the hungriest. I was craving to make another film with every fiber of my being. I also felt the most excited and inspired. There was a clarity. I've been around the block now...I just felt the most balanced. And jazzed. It's never easy, that's for sure, but I definitely know I need to extract the images from my mind. It's a compulsion that I don't understand but I'm a slave to it. I would have crawled over broken glass to get here...wherever here is.
Ellie Pettit plays Heather in Dante Tomaselli's Torture Chamber
FC- As a director, are you satisfied with what you've filmed?
DT - For $200, 000...yes. We filmed in 19 days. It was the most intense shoot I've ever experienced. 6 day weeks. 20 hour days. Of course, there are two or three scenes I didn't get to shoot. And I had to pare down here and there. But I shouldn't complain. That happens on all my films, I'm used to it. It's kind of part and parcel to all independent filmmaking. There are always some compromises due to the budget. As usual, I had to condense some scenes that were longer in the script. I've been watching the footage non-stop. I can't wait to add the sound design. I have it all exactly planned out. I made it through the war. Production, principle photography is over.
FC - Was the transition from screenplay to film what you expected, how close was what you filmed to what you envisioned? Because you know how sometimes what gets written on a script doesn't always translate the same way once you are there, on the set, actually filming, with actors. New ideas tend to pop up, was this the case on Torture Chamber?
DT - Yes and no. Mostly, I followed the screenplay but there were times where I welcomed Ad-libbing. I think I'm both a conservative and experimental filmmaker. Old school and no school. I'm instinctual, really. I fantasize. I've always been fantasizing. I see the images first and follow through. And then I send out a vibration to the universe to attract the most passionate, able people. One thing, I wasn't able to use the wolf spiders that I wanted. They were deemed too dangerous by Insurance. That made me sad. I wanted those spiders! There was a scene where a mechanical drill was supposed to lower from the ceiling and impale a character but the drill looked limp...something about it was not working. So I thought of a new sequence where the character is bodily forced into an old Iron Maiden. Torture Chamber is really not an all-out gorefest as it might sound. It's closer in spirit to Phantasm, Halloween, Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Brood...It's more about suggestion, unconscious dread...punctuated by visceral, in-your-face jabs. The balancing of both elements was intense. I wanted the film to be maze-like, like a Chutes and Ladders game...or Candyland...and visually...painterly. Subliminally scary. Lots of visual metaphor, under-the-surface stuff. Yes, it's my bloodiest movie, but that's not saying much because my films were never incredibly grisly. Honestly, I've always respected the model for horror films like Halloween, Psycho...and Texas Chainsaw Massacre...where the films seemed gory but they really weren't. Torture Chamber has lots of hypnotic horror imagery. I'm working on post production and I can say it's a ride through a frightening funhouse.
While shooting on set, you start to try to justify all sorts of things in order to move ahead. Internal dialogue galore. You have to balance decisions and think a lot on your toes. I've worked so many years...sometimes flailing in thee darkness...to get to a certain point... to this period of actual filming, so I feel electrified even being there, seeing it all finally...in motion. I'm aligned with the person I really am. Because if I'm not filming, I'm dead. I'm not really here. I'm waiting for the trip. Planning for it. It's like I'm an airplane pilot...When I'm gone, I'm gone.
Storyboards for a gory death scene in Dante Tomaselli's upcoming Torture Chamber
FC - Where the actors given freedom to run a bit with their characters and performances? What do you request from your actors? What was the dynamic between you and the actors?
DT- Um, I pretty much pick a particular actor because I know what he or she can bring to the role. I like actors who enjoy being left to their own devices, for the most part. I don't want to have to spoon feed everything. That's very distracting...and there's no room for awkward debate on such a rigid schedule. At the same time, I'm always there...guiding in some kind of way, whispering motivational words into the actor's ear before a take. I'm always there...on the actor's side. The performer will always feel my presence, almost subliminally. I respect actors. I could never do it. I'm not an in your-face-director. I feel I work almost telepathically with my actors.
Dante with one of the actresses for Torture Chamber, Raine Brown
FC - Like John Carpenter, you are a director known for being completely involved with the musical score of your films. How is the music of this film going to be achieved? Are you involved in the music this time around?
DT - Interesting because I was just listening to the soundtracks to Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, The Fog, Christine and Prince of Darkness. I have them on heavy rotation on my stereo IPod. I love John Carpenter's brooding synth music...it reminds me of my childhood...I've listened to Carpenter for as long as I can remember. I'm very influenced by his early stuff. The low moog synth bass. Will I be involved with the music this time around? Of course! It wouldn't be my movie, if I didn't design the soundtrack. The soundtrack is 50% of the film's equation and I can't imagine leaving that to someone else entirely. I'm a sound hunter. My approach is a bit different from some other directors. I like to work with a small group of composers, four or five. I won't let them see the footage but they should read the script...and focus on different specific sequences. I want their fresh perspectives. I'd like to see...or hear...what the imagination creates without seeing the images. What the mind conjures interests me. I give them some direction...and they create horror pieces, sometimes elaborate compositions, sometimes just tones and drones...and then I mix them together, like hallucinogenic salad, on my own, in the sound studio with an engineer, creating my unique mutation. I have a huge, ever-growing library of soundscapes that I mix and layer. I can't separate the visual from the sound. For me, they form a kind of virtual sandwich. If one layer, one ingredient, is missing, then it's not whole yet...and there's more work to do. More hunting. I'm obsessive about the sound design. With each movie, it's like I'm creating an album.
FC - Any unexpected surprises pop up during shooting? And how did you overcome them?
DT - Well, shooting for me, is a pure team effort. I was blessed with a spectacularly hard working crew on Torture Chamber. Every department shined. Camera, art, special effects make-up, the producers....This film really was a lovefest because everyone who was there really wanted to be there. There was a back and forth flow of supportive energy. The budget is low and it's tense and fragile, yes. You just have to make every moment count. You have to try to keep it all together through force of will. Because of child labor laws, I found out that we couldn't shoot our lead 13-year-old actor, Carmen LoPorto, as consecutively as we wanted...So I came up with the idea of a masked figure. It fit nicely into the script and the terrain of the movie. It actually kind of added a Giallo-like feel to some of the scenes. This mask concept came up unexpectedly, about two weeks before actual shooting. I thought it would be interesting if the art therapist at the institution had a special link with Jimmy. Her eyes. She reminds him of his religious mother...her eyes. Eyes...are very powerful, as we all know. So one day she teaches a class where she asks her students to create their own masks. The art therapist owns an ancient tribal mask...called Baalberith...It symbolizes blasphemy and murder. And Jimmy steals it.
FC - What was the experience working with child actors? Did it make shooting the film more difficult?
DT - The lead characters, Jimmy, Heather, Andy, Ken....They were all around 13, 14....We had to have tutors on set. Yes, it was very challenging, scheduling wise. The whole film's schedule was made around child labor laws. They could only work certain hours and there were restrictions. The actual young actors were uniformly talented and took direction very well. Carmen LoPorto, Ellie Pettit, Steven Lobman, Andrew George. An east coast casting director, Pamela Kramer, helped me find them.
FC - How will Torture Chamber distinguish itself from your previous films?
DT - I didn't lose the visual emphasis of the earlier films, but there's a new energy, a new pace. I think it's more engaging; there's more of an emotional pull with Torture Chamber. It feels more intimate. It's a colorful nightmare landscape vibrating with feeling. At the core, there's a family in deep pain. Torture Chamber is really about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried in the unconscious mind. I tried to keep the movie overflowing with shapes, symbols, colors and textures. A family dinner scene that turns violent is the centerpiece of the film. Everything is going down, down, down...This is a film that illustrates eternal damnation. A journey through the halls of hell. An interior journey.
Christie Sanford plays Mrs. Morgan in Dante Tomaselli's Torture Chamber
FC - How are you dealing with the editing process? And what’s the approach you are taking with the pacing of the film?
DT - The past few weeks I've been transcoding and watching the footage non stop. I'm about to begin the one month picture edit. Then there's the soundmix, my favorite part. For the picture edit, I have a log book with my notes and the script supervisor's notes. Mostly I have it all in my mind...like an imprint. I've learned the key moments of 20 hours of footage.
FC - Up to now, all your horror films have been independent horror films; are you hoping to one day make a film produced by a major studio? How do you feel about making a studio film?
DT- It's not a goal. I'm not hoping for it. No...but if it happens, it would have to fit like a glove. I have an independent spirit. Mainly, I want to keep everything moving full steam ahead so I can create more horror movies. It's all about making more films...whatever it takes.
FM - When can we expect to see Torture Chamber?
DT - The film should be ready for screening by Halloween or Christmas.
FM - Future projects you have in mind?
DT - I really shouldn't jump ahead. Torture Chamber is only on my mind.