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INTERVIEW WITH JOE ZASO

BIO: Joseph Zaso was born in Queens on November 20, 1970. He has lived in Nassau County of Long Island his entire life. He studied film at the New York Institute of Technology. After graduating, he lived and worked in Hollywood as an extra and bit player in such films as INDECENT PROPOSAL and DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY. He returned to New York City where he studied acting. His first "official" feature film is FIVE DEAD ON THE CRIMSON CANVAS (1996), a salute to Italian murder mysteries, which he produced and starred in for writer/director and New York Tech colleague, Joseph F. Parda. Their second feature is GUILTY PLEASURES (1997), which included two episodes. Zaso produced the entire film, starred in the first episode, NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS, and wrote and directed the second episode, METHOD TO MADNESS. His latest acting/producing assignment is SZAMOTA's MISTRESS, Joseph F. Parda's episode of a new anthology called EVIL STREETS. He has also acted in such films as ALIEN AGENDA: ENDANGERED SPECIES, CREATUREALM: FROM THE DEAD, and CAPTAIN WONDER. On stage, Mr. Zaso has appeared in Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE, RED SCARE ON SUNSET, I HATE HAMLET!, THE ODD COUPLE, and A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. On television he has made regular appearances on ALL MY CHILDREN, as well as OZ and PLAYBOY'S SECRETS AND CONFESSIONS. On occasion, Mr. Zaso has also made convention appearances as Spider Man and Captain America. This background is the basis for Mr. Zaso's eclectic style.

INFLUENCES: I have always wanted to make films, from the age of seven. Somehow, I have always found myself mesmerized by the entire concept of filmmaking. Even though my tastes aren't limited to horror, I always find myself influenced by the horror genre. My all time favorite thrillers (the ones that made me want to get up and make movies) are: SUSPIRIA, THE OMEN, CARRIE, CREEPSHOW, GREMLINS and anything by Italian director Dario Argento. When I was a teenager, just before the golden age of horror began to recede, I found myself watching anything and everything. But now, as an adult, I find myself influenced by European films and real-life anecdotes and irony. Nowadays, when I encounter an interesting person or situation, I try to incorporate that into a suspense story.

FILM SCHOOL: Film schools are certainly a help, but absolutely no guarantee. My advice to anyone choosing a film school is to choose the best. Connectons will probably be the best thing to result from attendance. The school I attended had a very mediocre staff and program and my lifelong love of watching and analyzing films was certainly my real teacher. But I can honestly say that the colleagues I have encountered was the best thing to come out of the entire film school experience. School is a plus, but certainly not a promise.

SCRIPT: Writing the script is, initially, the absolute most important thing. Problems and alterations can occur during the shoot, but the original concept must be air-tight. Although I love strong visuals, I really do prefer a flm with interesting characters, solid performances and clever situations. The visuals should act as an adornment. But every filmmaker has a different approach, so my opinion should certainly not act as gospel.

EQUIPMENT/FORMAT: As a director I've worked with video due to, of course, budgetary restrictions. As a producer I've worked with Super 8mm and 16mm film. As far as video, I've used Hi-8 and Betacam Sp. Truth be told, I really do think film is the medium to work with, even though raising the budget might be near impossible. In the long run, it really does give a produciton the look and value it needs to go on. Of course, most underground filmmakers almost never use film as a rule. As long as the scenarious are creative and well-lit, video can work.

BUDGET: Like most film producers I try to get a lot for a little. Connections, favors-these are the things that allow a production to go that extra mile. To me, production value is truly necessary. Quality is absolutely a must. On occasion, I do splurge on certain things like music, or costumes or locations because I feel that these certain elements can be very distinguishing for a production. But overall, if you're going to splurge on something, splurge on the technicals because ultimately, they are what end up counting the most. As far as financing, my production company Cinema Image Productions, raises its funds through various local private investors. My partner Joe Parda and myself contribute to most of the funding, though we are certainly not well off. Believe me, supporting myself and a company on a struggling actor/producer's income is not easy at all. But, in many ways, the struggle acts as a fuel for the drive behind it. Too many aristocratic filmmakers don't ever seem to understand this struggle,unfortunately.

HOW DO YOU CAST YOUR ACTORS: I usually cast through trade magazines such as Backstage or I'll cast people I've worked with before. Sometimes I get referrals from other actors. On occasion, I might contact a local agent to find actors or actresses for those roles that can't seem to be cast.

HOW DO YOU GET YOUR MUSIC? I work with a composer named Jerry Djerassi, who I discovered while scanning the ads in INDEPENDENT FILMS AND VIDEO. He's marvelous and tremendously talented. I find that he works well with directors who know exactly what they want in a score. He has his own style which gets incorporated into the director's blueprints. He is based in Brooklyn and has a studio in his home, and the results are certainly worth all the driving and long subway journeys I've made. To me, music is the fun part. The icing on the cake. I've often pressured Jerry with deadlines and ironically, the music always seems better under such circumstances. I've also worked with a local band called Function Zero, who have a powerful techno/Tangerine Dream sound. The songs they contributed to SZAMOTA'S MISTRESS, Joseph F. Parda's episode of EVIL STREETS, were fantastic. To me, the thing directors and producers should look for in a score is something fresh, sophisticated and different. All too often, I hear low-budget film scores that range from pedestrian to overwrought to downright amateurish. Low budgets do not necessarily dictate a lacking in quality. The talent has to be there from the start.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO DO YOUR FIRST FILM?: My first film, made long ago in 1989, was IT'S ONLY A MOVIE!. It was an ambitious horror-musical which received wildly mixed reactions. It took almost a year to complete from post-production in Fall, 1988, to its premiere in Fall, 1989. But then, there were no distinct deadlines. I ended up creating the deadlines. Nowadays, I believe that a project should be conceived and completed within six-eight months. I try to be a disciplinarian when it comes to deadlines because they're a necessary evil. Productions should always have a plan and completion should never linger on forever. Otherwise, it's all just a glorified hobby.

SPECIAL EFFECTS: We definitely come from the Roger Corman school of special effects. Everything is done on the cheap. My special effects makekup artist, Sunday Englis and Jason Alvino, have done fantastic work. My biggest qualm is the amount of time needed to process prosthetic effects. It's truly unnerving, but ultimately rewarding. If I feel there isn't enough time or money, I will re-evaluate how a scene should be shot. If something has to happen off-screen or if we have to omit or change and effect because it doesn't look convincing, then we don't include the effect. As far as I'm concerned, less will indeed be more.

ADVICE TO THE NOVICE FILMMAKER: Don't be overly ambitious.Don't be an egomaniac at the underground OR $200 million level. Eat, sleep and breath filmmaking while in production and post-production. Learn what quality is. And most importantly, learn that an enormous amount of sacrifice will await you because personal sacrifice is the true test for the filmmaker. How far will you go? When is enough enough? How badly do you really want to be in this business? When these questions start hurling themselves at you, the test will begin.

PUBLICITY: Publicity is enormously important for the filmmaker. It's expensive and time-consuming, but truly necessary. The public must know when a film is being made or else it will be forgotten before it's even discovered. In the end, however, profit is definitely more important.

DISTRIBUTION: Distribution is a truly difficult arena, particularly in this day and age because there are so very few small businesses and production companies, and mom-and-pop video stores. I've said in the past that there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. There only seems to be $200 million epics, "the Independent Films" financed by studios, and underground features. It's difficult to find a distribution company who will give you payment up front, or at least be honest with you about the numbers. Too many distributors seem to always be looking for something else, whether it be format or subject. It's also hard to feel confident in trusting distributors. Unless you have methods of your own, it's hard to grow. That's why I've decided to take the route of self-distribution, which seems to be the most successful move yet.

THE FUTURE: In the future, I hope to continue acting and producing. For my next role, I don't care what the genre or budget is, I just want to do excellent work. For my next producing work, I hope to work on a bigger scale with production values and filmmaking formats that are satisfactory to all involved.

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