Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Frightfest Preview: Interview - Michael Ojeda (Savaged)

With Frightfest Glasgow 2014 a couple of days away I'm starting to feel like a kid just before Christmas.  Savaged will be opening the event on Friday and based on the trailer and some word of mouth courtesy of festival goers around the world I'm sure it's going to kick things off in fine fashion.  Director Michael Ojeda was kind enough to let me ask him some questions. Here's how it went:

AOTD: Savaged is a very dark tale.  Tell us a little bit about where your mind was at while you were writing the script?  Are there any elements of the script you feel uncomfortable about having written?

Michael Ojeda: I started watching horror films at an early age and even went to midnight shows with my dad, so for me horror films have always been an escape from the mundane everyday life.  The horror I write always derives from a positive place.  Usually good versus evil.  I desire to see a protagonists triumph over dark forces, because I like to be able to think I can.  I think we all do.  So, to answer your question, no, it's not hard for me to go a dark place to write tragic things, because I know in the end the goal is to make my character stronger and strengthen their resolve.  I think in any great story, the more the character suffers, the more the audience demands a justified and equally strong response.

AOTD: The budget on Savaged was surely very tight.  What difficulties did this present or did you write the script with a low budget in mind?

MO: When I write, I don't hold back my vision because of budget.  I would not recommend any writer to work within that confined space.  Writing should be organic and flow from ones experience and desires.  Once the script is finished, then yes, I go back and modify details to fit the budget.

No, it was not easy to make Savaged on such a low budget.  It's a big movie with lots of action.  All I can say is, a filmmaker needs to be extremely clear on their vision, from everything down to the script, choosing locations, talent, cinematography, editing... EVERYTHING.   IF NOT, you better surround yourself with a hell of a team.

AOTD: Tell us a little bit about how the movie made its way from script to screen.  Was it an easy journey?

MO: After writing Savaged, I spent three years trying to raise the money and get the movie made.  Nothing evolved.   It was frustrating, because I knew I had a good script and that it was extremely marketable.  Then it hit me, nobody was reading the script.  Maybe they'd read the first ten pages and assume it was just another slasher film, even thought the story is so much deeper than that.  So, what I decided to do was shoot a short film to get people excited, and quite honestly... to get people to read the script.   So, my producing partner Jason and I raised $20,000 and shot what ended up being the first act of the film, and a few scenes to wrap it up in a nice tight package.  About a month after showing the short around, Raven Banner Entertainment a sales company out of Canada stepped up and offered us a third of our budget to get started.

AOTD: How did the shoot go?

MO: It went as well as any ambitious low budget film goes, it was crazy hectic as hell.  But we got everything we needed.  It was both exciting and painful, but the cast and crew were very supportive and gave 100%.
AOTD: The central concept of Savaged is pretty cool and ticks a lot of horror boxes. Was there anything in particular that served as inspiration?

I can't say there was ever any one inspiration.  When an idea for a film comes to me, it comes from a void in the market.  It's a craving I feel, something I want to experience that I can't because it hasn't been made yet.  That's the place my story ideas come from.  But definitely films I have loved over the years make their way into my ideas by way of mood, character situations, actions, style and execution.  Some movies that I feel have influenced me when writing Savaged, were "The Exorcist", "The Terminator", "The Crow,"  "Near Dark." "The Fly."   Maybe a few others that weren't conscious.

AOTD: The central role of Zoe is quite demanding. How did you end up casting Amanda Adrienne and what did she bring to the movie?

MO: Amanda is amazing.  She deserves to be a star.   Aside from her incredible talent and unstoppable work ethic, she's always striving to be better.  Always wanting to learn.  As an actress for me, playing Zoe, she brings a certain duality to the role which was very necessary.   Amanda is beautiful, without having that beauty infringe on her inner being.  That's what I love about her.   I honestly don't think she knows how lovely she is, and that modesty, and even vulnerability, is what I felt Zoe needed for the audience to fall in love with her.   At the same time, Amanda's a fighter.  I think her life's been a bit turbulent, so at the core she's tough.   I think Amanda tapped into that strength to bring the warrior out.

AOTD: I imagine that shooting the rape scene in the movie must surely have been an uncomfortable, emotional, possibly traumatic experience not only for Amanda but also the actors playing her assailants. What was the vibe like on the set that day?

MO: That kind of scene is always tense, but the entire cast and crew are professionals.  So, we all just dive in and get it done.

AOTD: Savaged is your first foray into the horror genre.  Are there any past masters of horror cinema, or just cinema in general, whose work you particularly respect and who have had an influence on your approach to film-making?

MO: Savaged is a horror film yes, but at the core it's a love story.  It's about two things, it's about evil men destroying something innocent and beautiful and creating a monster.  And it's about, love eternal.  Love that reaches beyond the grave.  The films I like are ones that effect me on every level, stir up every emotion.  I enjoy the adrenalin rush of fear, yes, but after the scare ends, I want to feel hate, joy, love, sorrow.  That's the kind of roller-coaster I want to ride.  And that's what Savaged is.

To answer your question, as far as filmmakers go, as a kid I loved John Carpenter, William Friedken, then as I grew older James Cameron, Michael Mann, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott.  So, I'm not influenced by horror filmmakers, just great filmmakers.  But I do love the horror genre.

AOTD: Do you have any new projects on the go? What should we expect from your sophomore effort?  Do you intend to stick with horror or are there other genres you wish to explore?

MO: I'm writing a Scifi/Horror/Action hybrid.  Very cool.  And like Savaged it has heart.

AOTD: Savaged is by all accounts a violent movie.  What do you think of the common criticism that violence in movies begets violence in society?

MO: Again, it depends on the vantage point of the writer and director.  I believe if a film comes from the perspective that good triumphs evil and the audience is made to connect with that, then it's a good thing.  I loved James Bond movies growing up.  Still do.  I wanted to be James Bond.  I'd like to see James Bond have to face some kind of a mutant monster, that would be cool.  Some horror buffs and fans may not like me saying this, especially fans of films like Saw or Hostel.  But if the horror is torture for the sake of exploitation, without any redeeming factor or greater message...I just don't see the point.

AOTD: Where horror is concerned mainstream Hollywood has been largely creatively bankrupt for quite some time with most of the interesting, challenging movies emerging from the indie scene.  Why do you think this is the case and what movies and/or directors from that scene have made a real impression on you?

MO: Making movies cost a lot of money and studios don't like to gamble.  It's the new wave of filmmakers who gamble every day with their lives trying to make it in this business, that are bold enough to take the chance to do something different.  It's quite simple, Hollywood's full of pussy execs who are afraid of losing their high paying jobs.  If a few would grow some balls and take some chances, maybe we'd see groundbreaking films and directors like in the 1970's and early 80's. 

AOTD: Savaged will be enjoying its UK premiere at Frightfest Glasgow 2014.  Do you have a message for the audience?

MO: I've been to Scotland once.  It's a lovely country with beautiful people, so I am honored to have Savaged playing at Glasgow Frightfest.   And I hope everyone enjoys the film.

AOTD: I just want to finish up by saying thank-you for taking the time to do this interview. We're really looking forward to Savaged and wish you all the success for the future.

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