Carl Paolino is the director of THE SICKNESS and the recently announced VIRGIN FALLS. He took a moment from his busy schedule of scouting and pre-production to answer a few of my questions regarding his newest project.
You’re an instructor of special effects make-up at New York’s School of Visual Arts. How did you come to teaching?
I feel like I’m taking a test. I’m a graduate of the film department over there more than a hand full of years ago. I have always stayed in touch with the faculty and when the class became available I was asked if I would teach it. I also teach a class in stop motion puppet construction.
As you make more films, do you plan to continue teaching?
Oh, yeah. Lot’s of fun. A good way of staying touch with the audience. Little do they know, but I think I learn more from the body of students than they do from me. I teach Continuing Education, so my students are in their twenties, thirties and forties. They come from diverse backgrounds.
I had the opportunity to see a viewing of THE SICKNESS, which in my opinion has many elements of late 50s sci-fi cinema with experiments gone awry mixed with influences of John Carpenter’s THE THING and other 80s horror. What’s the current status of distribution and how can more people see this film?
Securing a distribution deal for an indie horror film appears increasingly difficult today. That is to say if you have a film that wasn’t shot on film or has unknown actors. “The Sickness” was never meant to be a film with excessive gore, although we do have some good effects and kill off I think five or six people. It was meant to me more of a study in paranoia and claustrophobia and the affect it has when a catastrophe occurs. And so, without ten good splatter scenes, the film was passed on by more than a few distributors. That is not to say that I was not offered any deals, I have been. Consignment deals. But if there was one thing I was taught back in Film School that is just as true today is that, the money you get up front is the only money you will ever see. They can have it for cheap, but not for free. Hmmm, I didn’t answer your question. I have a distributor looking at it now who hasn’t said no, so I am waiting for an answer.
Your intention with VIRGIN FALLS is a return to practical make up effects, essentially shunning the CGI elements that have oversaturated many of today’s horror films. Has technology become too available or have horror fans and filmmakers simply forgotten their roots in hand made effects? Is this a Drive-In movie for a Blu-Ray world?
Nicely put. Yes. The problem with any new medium is once it becomes a fad (and that happens almost immediately if here is something unusual about it) all the creativity is gone. Business men end up directing films instead of writers. Fans become pumped by the hype and the media delivers more hype. Look at what they are doing with the “Twilight” series. I always said a major motion pictures can be produced and delivered in less than a year and I was told I was crazy. Yet, there they are. Three pictures in a row. All hype, little substance. Of course, if I were a fourteen year old girl, I would argue the point. Alternately, I tip my hat to their ingenuity- to their command of the industry. They are great at what they do. Maybe I will be there one day.
Now getting back to your question. I just watched, “The Thing from Another World” (1951). There was a scene where they lit the monster on fire with all the actors in the room with him. He thrashes around setting furniture on fire as well. God, it’s nothing less than amazing! If you saw a scene like that today you would know that no actors were ever in any danger and that there was some computer generated embellishment slipped in. It’s time to get back to making films the down and dirty way.
What’s your opinion on the current state of horror film remakes? Which film would you remake if you were at the helm?
Remakes, that’s always a mistake. Nothing good comes to mind. It appears that the mentality is, if we are going to remake a classic, let’s do it louder, brighter, with lots silly dialogue and with plenty of CG.
Which ones would I make, “The Killer Shrews”, “Fiend Without a Face”, hmmm, what was that one with the giant eyeball? The people were trapped at a ski resort, I think. There was gondola. I forget. I clearly remember being scared to death watching those as kid. Oh, and “It! The Terror From Beyond Space”. No, wait. They did that and called it “Alien”.
What are some of the unexpected influences on the aesthetic of your work and its storytelling structure? What’s your process for crafting your script? Do you have the story first or do you work from a conceptual design as an artist?
The unexpected influences would simply have to be good old movies. All genres. Great storytelling. It’s not about the action, it’s about the action that is about to happen, any second now. Wait for it. Wait for it. Now!
Audiences today are being trained like spoiled children. Every film they see has to be louder than the last and well, you get the picture.
About screenplays; they are all structure. Period. Structure of a scene. Structure of a story arc. Structure of the dialogue.
I mainly begin with the concept. Then I work out my structure from there. I work out the best way to tell my story and what I feel are the best type of characters that I can invent to tell that story.
You have written and directed THE SICKNESS as well as taking the same reins again for VIRGIN FALLS. Which role do you enjoy more; Writer or Director? How does your experience as a make-up artist affect those two roles?
I enjoy both. I see one as an extension of the other. You can’t direct the film until you wrote it, so that comes first. All through directing and into the editing room you are continually writing, or storytelling until the film is done.
Make up and effects work in general was always a pathway for me to take control of what is being seen, how that image will be presented to the audience. It still is.
Having worked on MTV’s CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH is there any battle that you wish you could have created but didn’t get a chance to? Can we expect any stop motion animation or puppetry with VIRGIN FALLS? How involved have you been with the creature design?
On “Celebrity Deathmatch”, it was never my place to say. However, I would love to see Bill Maher kick Newt Gingrich’s ass.
There is no stop motion in Virgin Falls” planned, not yet.
I’ll leave the pragmatic part of the design to my FX supervisor. Don’t ask who he is, not ready to talk about that yet. I see the character in concept form; what the character can do, how it moves and why. I have the practical experience so I plan on sitting down with the FX guy and brainstorming. Brainstorming is a lot of fun. When you are with the right creative people, it becomes a can-you-top-this game. Lots of fun.
THE SICKNESS has some great female leads; one favorite is portrayed with strong resonance by Kat Castaneda. She returns to VIRGIN FALLS to reportedly play one of the five women pitted against an ancient monster. What do you hope to add to the role of women in horror?
Balls. I am tired of the pretty girl who is running away from the monster, trips and her shirt falls off. I have a very special part planned for Kat (Castaneda). She showed a lot of guts in my last film both on screen and off. It was a very trying shoot (high temperatures on the set where we were shooting) and she never complained, never blew a line, and as my editor put it, “…that girl gets an ‘A’ for face expressions”.
Did you see the trailer for, “Attack of the 30 Foot Chola”, Kat is in that too.
As an independent filmmaker working outside of the studio system, what are some of the biggest challenges you have encountered with your projects? What advice can you offer to those contemplating making their own feature films?
The biggest challenge is always the same, not enough money for what you really need to do.
Best advice I can give is don’t be in a hurry to start shooting. Raise more money and have it all in the bank before you begin shooting anything. Also, pay your actors. If they don’t show up one day, there is no film.
You’re currently scouting in Albany, New York. What are some of the updates with VIRGIN FALLS? Any other casting news? Perhaps some storyboards or other peeks behind the scenes?
I’m trying something new here. To begin with I thought it would be cool to do a blow-by-blow, day-by-day account of what we are considering and going through. So we created a Facebook page and are doing just that. The casting news will have to wait, I know who I want, but she (they) have to be available when I need them.
Let’s get you on set when we start shooting and you can see (report) for yourself.
You stated to Fangoria that you want to create a horror film for horror fans. There’s even a Face Book page that you’ve created. Why is it so important for you to reach out to these genre fans and what are some of the other ways we can follow along with your progress?
What other projects can we look forward to from Antidote Films?
I am almost done with a screenplay for a children’s animated film. I hope it gets done in stop motion animation. Think, “Nightmare Before Christmas”, without the songs. I have a very large entertainment group interested in it, so I am guessing I may not be allowed to direct it. It’s never too early to get kids hooked on horror films.
I’d like to thank Carl for his time with this interview and wish him the best of luck with his new feature film. I look forward to the opportunity to cover this project further as details surface and principle photography begins.