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INTERVIEW WITH TOM VOLLMANN

Q: You've done two short movies that have been parts of other projects--THE ALIEN AGENDA: UNDER THE SKIN and half of the soon to be released ADDICTED TO MURDER 3: BLOOD LUST. How did this come about?

VOLLMANN: The ALIEN AGENDA: UNDER THE SKIN segment began as a feature script I began shooting in the summer of 1996 titled UNSAVORY CHARACTERS. It was a story about a crime family of aliens who infiltrate a Chicago Mob Boss and his crime family. It was a simple script in that what it lacked in story it made up for in effects and action. Since I was shooting in 16mm, my shooting schedule was long (almost a year), and my budget was quite small (around 10,000). I had worked a deal with Conrad Brooks (PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE) to fly in for three days so I could shoot his scenes first. Since I hadn't cast most of the other parts yet, I just shot Conrad's scenes by himself, talking to an imaginary actor to be filmed later. Since I cast Conrad as the head of the Chicago crime family all I needed him to do was react to people being shot or just talking on a phone. I shot around 30 minutes of footage (all without sync sound) before planning the remainder of the shoot. Before I could feel good about having Conrad's footage in the can I realized I would never be able to afford to finish shooting in 16mm. In a moment of panic I decided to buy a digital video camera and reshoot Conrad's footage. Man, everyone thought I was crazy. They were right. After shooting only two short scenes with my new cast, I decided my sci-fi action extravaganza would never get off the ground. It was then, that I told Kevin Lindenmuth that my project was dead. After consoling me on my failed project Kevin asked me if I was interested in working on a segment of his ALIEN AGENDA series. I said great! What do you have in mind? He asked me if I had any story ideas. I really didn't. So I suggested Kevin read the UNSAVORY CHARACTERS script and possibly rewrite it to fit the ALIEN AGENDA theme. He did, and after rewriting it, set it off to me. Kevin did a great job of adapting my story. Not only do the action elements remain but there are some real neat twists and turns as well. And the best part was we could incorporate the 16mm footage of Conrad into the movie via flashbacks. Cool. After completing the short and sending the footage off to be edited, Kevin offered me another project. This time it was for his new ADDICTED TO MURDER installment. This time, when Kevin asked me if I had a script in mind I pitched him my vampire in prison story, KILLING TIME. He liked the concept and had me pen a screenplay..

Q: How are your recent projects different from your debut movie, DEAD MEAT?

VOLLMANN: The biggest difference is shooting on video as opposed to Super 8mm film. The fact that you can immediately view your footage is a big time, not to mention money saver. Most of the time on DEAD MEAT we were just guessing as far as lighting went. It's difficult to create mood when your first movie out of the gate is shot on film, particularly Super 8mm. Also, DEAD MEAT's shooting schedule was eight months compared to three months for ALIEN AGENDA and KILLING TIME. I've also enjoyed shooting these shorter projects (A.G is 30 minutes and K.T is 40) because it forces you to get to the point within the first minute or two. With a feature you can develop the characters at a slower pace. With these featurettes everything has to come together quickly, which is a challenge. More bang for the buck, so to speak.

Q: Any "production from hell" stories or interesting anecdotes?

VOLLMANN: My original UNSAVORY CHARACTERS script had over 100 gunshots and squibs in it. This probably had to do with too much caffeine. Anyway, Kevin retained three good action scenes from my original. Only two problems--I still hadn't perfected realistic looking squibs and the Hollywood prop guns I had purchased were too damn loud to fire. After securing a somewhat secluded warehouse we were given permission to fire these guns during the day. This way it wouldn't be as noticeable, I guess. We were given about thirty minutes to have actors fire off a dozen or so rounds as a cop sat in his car babysitting us. When all was said and done, these guns were no louder than a jack hammer. Next time I intend on shooting these off in the middle of nowhere. Out of sight out of mind. As for the squibs, well, they worked pretty good except I made the mistake saving time by pre-making them the night before. I wrapped firecrackers in mortician's wax and apparently they got too moist. Not a good idea. That's why only two squibs actually appear in the finished movie. Next time I'll stick to directing only. One night we shot a scene for KILLING TIME in the church I work for. I always wanted to shoot something in the main sanctuary because it really would make for a great locale. Since I really didn't have permission to shoot a movie about a vampire who lives in a prison I was taking a chance. Sure as shit, I decided to start shooting an hour early one Sunday evening and in walks my fucking boss. Now, as luck would have it, we were shooting a scene where Steven Jon White (SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS) playing a prison minister, is standing on the church altar. I was able to bullshit my way out of it because the "religious movie" we were shooting. It was a close call, but I still have my job and the movie rolls on, shooting much later, of course.

Q: Who are some of the actors involved in KILLING TIME? How did you get Steven Jon White and Conrad Brooks?

VOLLMANN: I met Steven Jon White ("Sam" to his friends) in 1993. I was introduced to him through a mutual friend who thought I would be interested in meeting someone who worked with "The Godfather of Gore", H.G. Lewis. And having just finished DEAD MEAT, I was thrilled. Sam liked my film and said it was better than any of Lewis' gore films. At the time I figured he was just being polite. But he actually did like it and showed it to some distributors for me. Since then we've worked on various projects together, mostly commercial gigs. And when it came time to do ALIEN AGENDA I asked Sam if he would like to play one of the major roles. He agreed, and thought it would be fun. So I cast him as Detective Sam Minella. Sam's an old pro--he worked long hours with a bad back and a sprained toe and never complained once! What a trooper! One added advantage to having Sam on the set was his knowledge of filmmaking. While working on the Lewis films he would do everything from sound to working the 35mm Mitchell camera. I picked up a lot of helpful hits from Sam. I met Conrad Brooks as the Fangoria convention in New York in 1995. We struck up a conversation that led to me asking him if he'd be interested in doing a "picture" for me (Conrad refers to films as pictures). In the next year Conrad and I kept in touch. I'd send him scripts to read and see if he liked any. Since Conrad lived in L.A he often travels to the East Coast to do conventions. When his train would arrive at Union Station (Conrad never flies) Sam and I would meet him for lunch and discuss the plans for the movie. Like Sam, Conrad also worked extremely hard and never complained. And as a reward I gave him a scene with a pretty girl giving him a massage in a jacuzzi. He does have a way with the women.

Q:What do you think of the current state of low-budget production?

VOLLMANN: Low budget production may actually be looking up. Blockbuster seems to be loosening up on accepting lower budgeted efforts such as ADDICTED TO MURDER, FEEDERS and CONTACT BLOW. Even Fangoria is showcasing independent filmmakers in just about every Issue and are even starting up their own video line with the premiere of Andrew Parkinson's I, ZOMBIE. I think the biggest problem with lower budgeted genre efforts isn't the lack of good product so much as it's the reluctance of the horror fan to part with their $20 bucks to buy an independent video. There's very little support out for the kinds of movies that independent filmmakers produce. All the fans care about are "HALLOWEEN 27" or "LEPRECHAUN 19". At least independent filmmakers are making a conscious effort to try something different. We need your support people! If very fan who reads FANGORIA (about 1/4 million) bought one low budget video a year, there would be more filmmakers making better and more original material for everyone to view. As it stands, it's the fans who need to take a chance and support the independent videos that we work so hard to produce. Until that happens, it'll be more of the same. Can you say "FRIDAY THE 13th- THE REMAKE"!

Q:What are your future projects?

VOLLMANN: At present I'm trying to sell a comedy script entitled ESCORTS. It's loosely based on a true story about an exclusive escort service. It would make for a wacky movie, similar to CLERKS I imagine. As for genre projects, I've got a sci-fi horror script called HEARTLESS that I'd like to do. I would describe it as a cross between BAD TASTE and THE HIDDEN. It could be very creepy.

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