Day 5 of my 13 Horrifically Silly Days of Halloween series...with my guest Justin McConnell, of unStable gRoUnd and the Little Terrors Film Festival series at Eyesore Cinema
Please tell me a bit about yourself and your background in horror in general. And tell me about Unstable Ground.
I've been making independent movies for quite a while now, largely self-financed, with minimal investment, up until I made LIFECHANGER (which was technically my 6th feature film). I became obsessed with film, and horror, at a very early age, when I first saw films like The Monster Squad and The Lost Boys. My dad used to sneak horror films to me when I was home sick from school, so by the age of 15 I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I started Unstable Ground in the late 90s, while I was making movies in high school, turned it into an official production company in 2001, and then a corporation in 2004. But it's a corporation of one person (me), with a bunch of freelancers as needed. We've been actively creating entertainment media, and offering production and post-production services to people around the world ever since. More on my history can be found on my IMDb.
Tell me more about LIFECHANGER. How was it to shoot a feature with a larger budget compared with what you’ve previously done? Was it a "life changer" for you?
The major difference for me was moving from a set where I was trying to do too many jobs at once (the no budget way) to having a set where there is 25+ crew and a much bigger cast, actual departments of people working together to realize the vision. So it's a crash course on teamwork and protocol. As for the synopsis, it's about a murderous shapeshifter setting out on a mission to make things right with the woman he loves. But at the core it's a dark and gory relationship/sexual politics story. I don't want to go much deeper than that as it's been out there to watch for a long time now, and I'd rather people draw their own conclusions. And yes, it has changed my life in a few ways, mostly opening doors and being taken more seriously in pitches.
How did the monthly Little Terrors Monthly Short Film Series start? How is Rue Morgue involved as a partner?
In 2011 a friend suggested I approach an indie theatre in Toronto (then called The Projection Booth) to see about running screenings. I came up with the idea of a short film program, we brainstormed names, I settled on Little Terrors, and then approached Rue Morgue about co-presenting (supporting with their social media network and providing prizes/giveaways/support). The first event was a lot of fun and I haven't looked back since. We've now played over 700 short films since then, have changed venues twice (moved to Carlton Cinemas and then Eyesore Cinema).
Read more of my delightful interview with Justin McConnell...click "read more"...
Please share with me some of your very favourite shorts that you’ve screened (and why).
I've screened so many it's very difficult to narrow down, as we'd be here for ages with me listing shorts. But I'll mention a couple, at the disclaimer that these are just samples, and do not reflect 'the best of' exactly. I've played so many great shorts I don't think I could narrow down a best of, and generally hate lists. But here are a few samples:
Black Eyes (dir. Rick Spears) Really heartfelt outsider tale about two young people coming together and helping each other through pain via their love or horror and the use of make-up effects. Again, more drama than horror, but very much living in the world of the horror fan.
The Stylist (dir. Jill Gevargizian) Creepy and well-made contained short about a haircut you definitely don't want.
Dead Hearts (dir. Stephen W. Martin) Quirky, hugely entertaining, and heartwarming, while still being macabre and horror.
Have you ever programmed what would be considered a horror comedy short? Or perhaps even a “B-movie” short?
Yes. The definition we use for what is eligible to play Little Terrors is 'genre', so we play a wide variety of shorts, not just straight up horror. If it fits into weird, surreal, strange, fantastic, terrifying, absurdly comical with a genre bent, whatever….. if it's good…. we will play it.
I've played so many shorts at this point that I feel I'd be doing a disservice only mentioning one or two. And I'm not sure the term 'B-movies' is accurate. But two that really stick out just off the top of my head:
Interesting Ball (dir. Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan) These directors went on to make the great 'Swiss Army Man', but before that I played this mind-blowing meditation on the interconnectedness of human lives… among other things. It's not horror exactly, but it's fun and extremely creative.
Phil Tippet's Mad God Vol. 1 & 2 (dir. Phil Tippett) Insane, hugely creepy stop-motion from one of the best artists in the stop-motion business, made as a passion project over many, many years. I would also put Junkhead 1 in this category as well, so will provide both links.
Turning to feature films—what would be your favourite horror comedy film? And your favourite B-movie of all time? With respect to B-movies, if you have a separate “oldie” fav as well as a more modern fav, I’d love to know.
I really don't like narrowing down to 'favourites' at all. But in terms of horror comedy I love early Peter Jackson films (Bad Taste, Dead Alive), Return of the Living Dead, Fright Night… the list would go on forever. As for favourite B-movie….. that's a very tough choice. I can't say. Street Trash is up there, but it's not exactly my 'favourite'. I've seen too many films to pick favourites.
What about your favourite features or shorts by local filmmakers?
I'm a big fan of Vincenzo Natali, and his films Cube, Cypher and Nothing were heavy influences in my belief that I could make films for a living. Same goes with Bruce McDonald and Hard Core Logo. As for modern locals of people in the same scene as me, I think Steve Kostanski, Justin Harding, Trevor Juras, Justin Decloux, Jovanka Vuckovic and Chris Nash have some really great and/or promising stuff. But there's lots of quality in the Toronto scene, and I list these people knowing there's another 20 or so people I could mention as well, if not more. Again, we'd be here all day.
What about horror writers and novels (or horror comedy, if any come to mind)? Which authors/titles would you recommend? Anyone a little more obscure?
I grew up reading tons of Dean Koontz and think he's underrated in the shadow of Stephen King (who I also really enjoy). Brian Lumley, John Saul… I could list, again, for a long time. But when it comes to reading I tend to skew more into absurdist or post-modern fiction more so than horror. I read so much horror growing up I ended up branching out a bit more with the printed word, and love stuff from Tim Dorsey, Neal Stephenson, Chuck Palahniuk, a handful of culture writers and comedians, and…. to repeat, the list would go on.
Check out the trailer LIFECHANGER:
For Day 4, Click HERE...