It’s no secret that the sleaziest of the sleazy tightens the crotch of our bell bottoms. The Blood Sprayer is genetically predisposed to seeking out the nasty stuff. Hey, don’t blame us-it’s in our DNA! So, the discovery of James Bickert’s DEAR GOD NO! was a goddamn epiphony.
This Atlanta-based filmmaker is on a hot streak currently, as his feature makes its way around the country. He and his partners in crime (under their Big World Pictures imprint) have a “No Chicken Shits Allowed” mentality. Raised under Ted Turner’s tyrannical/batshit programming of TV in the 70’s, Bickert & Co. ingested years of exploitation films and are using their abilities to honor their upbringing by making some of the finest must-see independent genre film seen in years. Don’t expect sell-out, PC, commercial dick drivel from this unruly bunch: No sirree, James Bickert is here to kick ass and leave a trail of beer cans behind him.
James was nice enough to give The Blood Sprayer a little bit of his time to discuss DEAR GOD NO! and then some. Not only was he nice enough to answer all our questions, but he rolled out what has now become one of my favorite interviews I’ve had the pleasure of conducting. In short, James Bickert brings the goods. He’s the real deal and I reckon you’re going to love this as much as I did. Enjoy the interview and check out DEAR GOD NO!, currently screening at a convention near you.
BS: To get the ball rolling, give our readers a little insight into who you are, where you’re from, and how you became a filmmaker.
Although I’ve lived in Atlanta for the past 20 years, I’m originally from the Southeastern swam- infested part of the state where I was raised on a diet of Drive-in Trash and Famous Monsters Magazines. Most of us exploitation aficionados in Georgia are the result of Ted Turner’s crazy programming on WTCG (now TBS) in the 70’s. Back then, it was a vehicle for him to broadcast every Atlanta Braves game and he would just fill the rest of the time slots with monster films, Night Gallery, wrestling and crazy Japanese Kaiju kids shows. As a result of WTCG, many of us gravitated to the same drive-ins, video stores, dive bars, etc. Ted Turner’s brainwashed bastard children. Some kids would go deer hunting but we were the guys that got drunk and blew stuff up. After studying fine art, bras and keg stands in college, I met this dominatrix at a bar who needed a camera operator for some gothic S&M / bondage films. I don’t have any freaky fetishes, but the money was good. These films were terrible and surprisingly boring to shoot and edit. It all looked like a Nine Inch Nails video or Joel-Peter Witkin photo. Finally I said screw it to common sense and decided that if I’m going to make crap, it’s going be the crap I want to see.
That’s great to hear! We just wanted to entertain ourselves and now I’m getting the chant from Todd Browning’s Freaks. There are quite a lot of us out there and it’s been refreshing meeting everyone across the country. The concept came about over a mason jar of moonshine while projecting The Glory Stompers in the backyard with my partners in crime, Shane Morton and Nick Morgan. We started talking about the end of the biker film cycle and the crazy variations that tried to keep it alive. There were not many biker films that took place outside of the California chopper culture so I wanted to create a picture with a Southern identity. It was important that it felt like the most insane lost film from the 70’s, so any technique and equipment post 1976 would have to be thrown out the window. We made it like we thought a low budget 70’s film would be made. The crew was the cast, no dolly, no Raimi cam, practical effects, shoot on film, only one take allowed, and shoot it in 7 days. The total opposite of commercial filmmaking today. Obviously I had to use computers to edit it. Boo!
BS: DGN! is a literal exploitation wet dream: Bikers, strippers, sex, Nazis, drugs, alcohol, Sasquatch, Satan, Rock & Roll…was it your intention to make this movie a mixbag of everything you love, or did it happen organically as part of the process?
I truly love exploitation films so all those elements seemed natural as the story progressed in my head. I had come up with the ending first and wanted a fun roller coaster ride getting there. In my mind it all seemed like a natural progression of insanity. You know, even though there are some dark convoluted themes running through it the main goal was always a beer drinking, yell at the screen, good time. You’re probably right; it is a mixbag of everything I love. Hell, wait till you see the sequel!
All biker films must have a long riding sequence. It’s a law of the genre. I didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the film once we got to the meat and potatoes so the opening credits were the only place for a riding montage. There is a highway to nowhere out in Mansfield, Georgia where The Walking Dead shoots, so we paid off a deputy to let us go nuts for six hours. We also shot two other scenes within that time frame. One of our actors was found hanging in his living room the night before. He was a really close friend to everyone on the crew so it was some much needed therapy to get out there on those vintage Harleys. It really helped us get through the next five days of shooting. We became an even tighter family.
BS: Clearly you’ve been influenced by the grindhouse era of cinema. Coming up as a film fan, what were the films that became your motivation? Who are the filmmakers you include in your list of favorites?
Well, as a kid, it started with Universal & A.I.P. monster movies which progressed into Hammer, New World Pictures, Crown International, Box Office International, etc. My favorite go-to movies are The Cheerleaders, Orgy of the Dead, Spider Baby, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Three Way Weekend, Horror Rises from the Tomb, Hard Times for Archie, Nightdreams, Black Caeser, The Outfit, Tombs of the Blind Dead, The Savage Seven, She Demons, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Raw Force, Wolf Devil Woman, Bare Behind Bars, Two Thousand Maniacs, Truck Stop Women, Honky Tonk Nights, Last Night at The Alamo and Mondo Topless. There are many director influences: Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Jose Majica Marins, Sergio Corbucci, Seijun Suzuki, Monte Hellman, Eddie Romero, Fredrico Fellini, Luis Bunuel, William Girdler, Larry Cohen, Jean Rollins, just to name a few. I love the old school William Castle and David Friedman ballyhoo most of all.
BS: Something I’ve always found interesting about guys like you, who make films like Dear God No!, is that you obviously were not concerned with what the “commercial” response would be. With that in mind, what is it about horror and exploitation that lights your fire? Do you associate your love of these types of films with your mentality towards making movies?
I’m pretty sure it has to do with my childhood at the Drive-in. The parents putting me in the front seat with hot dogs, pizza, popcorn and soda while they made out in the back. The smell of the old PIC mosquito coils, sound from the mono speakers and countdowns that would never end. Pretending to be asleep so I could watch horror films through one half open eye. It totally influences my filmmaking mentality. In my mind, I make films to be seen outdoors in lawn chairs with a dry rubbed pork loin on the grill and a keg of cold beer. And you are totally right, we don’t give a fuck about working in Hollyweird or answering to anyone who doesn’t get it.
BS: We’re gonna go off topic slight for a few moments: In a previous discussion you and I had, it was made clear that beer is a mutual love for both of us. So, whatcha been drinkin’? If folks come down your way, what beers are you introducing them to? Tell us some of your more recent faves, and what are the old standbys.
Well, that would be Jailhouse Brewery’s Slammer Wheat and Monday Night Brewing Company’s Kilt Lifter. That’s the best we have locally right now. I’ve been mostly drinking Southern Tier, Shiner’s Rye Lager and everything in New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series. I like pounding Weihenstephaner and a buddy turned me on to all these crazy smoked Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbiers. The Marzen is delicious. But hell, I’ll always drink a case of cold PBR. I’m no beer snob.
The Forty Fives composed a great deal of the music. Bryan G. Malone (lead singer & guitarist) was our soundman so he had first hand knowledge of the direction we were going. He and Adam McIntyre were great to work with and very fast. Dusty Booze, our resident record collector, turned me onto an old B-Side by Paul Revere & The Raiders that was straight up sax-based 60’s titty bar tunes. I played it for those guys and within a week we had a badass clone to play on set for our strippers. They recorded an amazing cover of MC5’s Baby Won’t Ya but we couldn’t get the damn rights from Wayne Kramer . It was going to be ½ our budget, so we replaced it with the great Southern fried rock act Syrup. It was important that the tunes stay true to the era so The Forty Fives ran with a James Gang vibe. Bryan also brought aboard The Booze and The Biters. Johnny McGowan of Grinder Nova put together the title song and it just puts a smile on my face. We needed one of those dopey 70’s folk songs with a Southern feel and he nailed it. It feels straight out of The Born Losers. Richard Davis from Gargantua did our original score on some vintage equipment and has probably seen the film more times than anyone. I love his work; he has immense creative talent, a good work ethic and a genuine love for the genre. I would just tell him the tone I was going for and he nailed it every time. I wouldn’t use anyone else. I listen mostly to local music like Bigfoot, Dusty Booze & The Baby Haters, The Forty Fives and Ghost Rider Car Club. When it’s not local, it’s rock like Buffalo, Rose Tattoo, Rattler, Five Horse Johnson, Sheavy, Supersuckers, Lucifer’s Friend and the classic shit like Bon Scott’s AC/DC.
BS: Let’s talk beards. Beards are an essential, manly aspect of life for me. Judging by your cast members, the same can be said for them. Tell us a little about your cast. It didn’t seem as though they had to strectch too far from their own look and lifestyles to play the characters they’re playing. Would this be a correct assumption or are they vastly different than the folks they portrayed (under the assumption they’re not pillaging, raping murderers obviously)?
Yeah, pretty much. All the bikers were cast before the script was written. We’re all friends who have helped inspire volumes of police reports. I just took elements of their personalities and exaggerated them a tiny bit. Not much. It made writing easy because I could hear each one saying the dialogue.
BS: There had to have been some fucked up moments when making a movie like Dear God No!. Possible run-ins with people who didn’t realize you were making a film, etc. If any, tell us about a few insane moments that occurred while shooting.
The most fucked up was the explosion at the beginning of the film. The pyrotechnic guys had built a sawdust cannon that was supposed to blow several pounds of sawdust into a fireball that would dissipate into the air. They decided to experiment and add flour to the mix which caused the giant mushroom cloud to fall back like napalm. It lit a giant patch of kudzu on fire and in seconds it became a dangerous out of control fire with 50 ft. flames about to destroy our favorite drive-in! Strangely, the pyro guys didn’t think to bring any fire extinguishers, so we had to run from snack bar to snack bar gathering as much hose as we could. Luckily we kept Atlanta from being burned to the ground a second time. Then, there was the original Kooky Karl who popped a handful of Xanex and had to be replaced on the spot by Tim McGarren. I’ll save that story.
BS: To wrap this all up, I want you to give us a complete rundown of what’s ahead for you. What projects do you have in the works via Big World Pictures, where can readers get a hold of their own copies of Dear God No!, where can they SEEthe movie screening in the near future, and most importantly, what can we do (as fans) to keep you all moving with your filmmaking?
We just shot a promo for the sequel FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS. It can best be described as Leon Klimovsky making a film for New World Pictures. It’s a 90 second trailer that our international sales agent will take to Cannes for pre-sales. If there’s enough money, we would like to make the prequel REBEL HELL at the same time and put together a roadshow package with bands for the summer of 2013. We would try to book it at the remaining American drive-ins. After that, I have a series of hicksploitation moonshine running films and a women in prison / tropical hellhole film. All have bat shit crazy horror elements. I’m also producing MY ROOM being made by David Anthony and Logan Myers. It’s really fucked up. If funding falls in place, that should begin shooting this summer.On June 5th, DEAR GOD NO! will be available on DVDfrom Amazon and a few brick n mortar stores. It’s loaded with 2 commentaries, trailer, behind the scenes, stills & poster slideshow, 2 theatrical promos, the world premiere and five Easter eggs! We’re negotiating some streaming rights now. The fans have been great especially the blogs. It’s hard to crack into the mainstream press and the internet response has really helped us become noticed. If you want to keep us rolling, vote for us on IMDB and drop a review. Next up theatrically is a midnightscreening May 4th at Texas Frightmare Weekend and then a screening in Dayton, Ohio on May 25th. It will play in New York City sometime this summer. You can keep up on everything through our website (www.deargodnomovie.com) and Facebook page.