Since the success of 2007's Trick-r-Treat, horror anthologies have taken on a life of their own, and not many of them have been too have been worth the time of its viewer. That has all changed with the new horror anthology, Volumes of Blood. The crew of the film has been kind enough to answer some questions in regards to this incredible new film, this interview will include answers from PJ Starks (writer/director), Nathan Milliner (writer/director/artist), Jakob Bilinski (director) and Lisa Duvall (effects makeup).
Volumes of Blood’ clearly pays homage to earlier, iconic slasher films, were there any films in particular that you wanted to incorporate or was it just slasher films in general that you wanted to pay tribute to?
PJ: A little of both. Obviously the killer in the opening segment of the film is homage to Bag-head Jason from Friday the 13th Part2, but I wanted to give the feel of many sub-genres and films throughout the run time. The films gives homage to many films like Scream, After Midnight, Insidious, Halloween and many more. There are tons of references in the film to various horror classics like The Prowler, Pieces, House and Texas Chainsaw Massacre from taglines built into the dialogue to direct mentions. Needless to say it was a blast writing the scripts.
Was the film originally going to be a slasher movie or was it always planned to be an anthology?
PJ: It was always planned to be an anthology. The origins of the film actually have a foundation in education as the production was in association with the Daviess County Public Library. I had pitched the idea to Jim Blanton, director of the library and producer on the film, to do an anthology after we had a successful run of an educational program called Unscripted Film School that engages the community to come be a apart of the making of an indie film. He loved the idea of an anthology and the rest is history.
The effects in ‘Volumes of Blood’ appeared to be all practical, were they?
PJ: Yeah, the only digital fx are the head explosion in A Little Pick Me Up. Originally it was supposed to be a less is more approach, but the editor said he could make the head explode and I said go for it. I’m huge on practical effects work. For me the real fun is when you have a tangible effect. I think it looks better most times, especially in indie films and also it helps the actors with their performance rather than a silver ball on a stick. Lisa Duval was my Special FX Super and she did an incredible job. She was able to pull off all the practical kills I wanted from the pencil death to the spinal cord tear. They’re all crowd pleasers.
Lisa: First, let me just say what a great opportunity it was to be involved in this project. Having had the opportunity to work with PJ Starks on prior occasions, I was anxious to hear about the new project. Obviously, with independent films, comes the challenge of extremely limited budget as well as concrete time restrictions. When PJ described the concept for the film and the effects that he was looking for, I have to admit to being a little nervous at my lack of experience, but there was no way I was going to decline the opportunity.
When I say I had little experience, I am not being humble. I had worked on a couple of smaller projects with PJ, but that’s about it. I had no formal training in SPFX. I had dabbled a little in latex, gelatin, grease paints, and airbrushing a little. But what I lack in experience, I make up with passion and drive. So, I basically taught myself how to sculpt prosthetics, mold/cast/apply/ and paint them. I learned through a lot of trial and error and many hours of online video.
The concepts belonged to the directors but the burden of bringing them to fruition fell to me. There were many sleepless nights sculpting and getting effects ready. I received the script and would read it several times to ensure that I had every effect covered from the smallest scratch to an overall look. Usually the week before a big shoot, requiring more time management and a complete look. The actor and I would get together and do a trial run on makeup. This would make time on set more manageable and give us an idea on what we wanted and didn’t want. On set…no time for mistakes really, so this helped a lot. Other times I would go several hours early, so at 5pm, they could walk in and start shooting.
I find myself critiquing my work every time I see the film. There were some effects that were more challenging than others and some that I was more proud of than others for sure. I think about some of my favorite artists, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, and Michael Spatola and I wonder if they look back at their work from time to time and say, “man I wish I would have done that better.” I know that I do from time to time. But, with every success and every mistake comes a lesson and a learning moment and I will continue to learn. I have recently taken online classes from The Stan Winston School of Character Arts, and Michael Spatolas’ Monstrous Manual has been a valuable tool as well.
All in all, I had an amazing time working with this crew and I think what we ended up with was one hell of a product. So, if and when I am invited for VOB#2, I look forward to producing even better effects.
Actors can make or break an indie film, and the cast of your film was outstanding, were any of them pre-selected or did they all go through the normal casting process?
PJ: Nope, nearly the entire cast was pre-selected. A couple roles had to be recast due to scheduling conflicts and such, but I didn’t want to do the normal casting. The whole film was created under the Unscripted Film School, so I needed to put as much into place ahead of time as I could to make sure that the film school would be a success. This was definitely not the normal filmmaking situation. A lot of the cast I knew but never really had a chance to work with directly such as Kevin Roach, Roni Jonah, Jason Crowe, Jim O’Rear and others. I contacted them early and offered them roles. Thankfully they accepted and helped make a truly memorable filmmaking endeavor.
Nathan: Boy did I get lucky. The only casting choice I can take credit for was Kristine Renee Farley who played Paige in my segment, Encyclopedia Satanica. The other actors (Todd and Kevin) were already attached to the project and roles before I was brought in to direct. Well, Todd was added shortly after because I had put in a request to cast an older actor for the co-worker as it was originally written to be a 30-year old woman. I was wanting a more paternal role model character in the part because I have a pet peeve that indie films are often made by young people and star young people. P.J. was way ahead of me and had already planned to replace the character with Todd Reynolds whom he had worked with in the past. I knew from the moment I first introduced myself to Todd that I was in very good hands. And Kevin Roach came with the highest of praise. Everyone who knew him told me he was one of the best around and would nail the role of Derek. After rehearsing and talking with them all I knew they were going to MAKE my movie and not BREAK my movie. I had previously worked with Kristine on my film "A Wish for the Dead." When I read the original script for Satanica I saw Kristine in the role. I knew she was perfect. Another actress had been given the role but I wasn't one hundred percent sure the other actress would be able to meet the demands of the tight schedule so I recast it with Kristine who went way beyond the call of duty. She was battling a serious spinal injury the entire shoot and fought through terrible pain and somehow found the strength. I'd work with any of them again in a heartbeat. Well, I actually am about to work with Kevin and Todd this month.
Jakob: Well Grant Niezgodski was decided on pretty early. He and I have worked together a few times before and P.J. and I agreed he was great for the role and could bring a lot to the character that wasn't necessarily on the page. Paige Ward was a late addition and a bit of a godsend. I had been scrambling to find an actress that worked right for the role, and wound up in a bit of a casting snafu that left me with no one to play the part right before the shoot. My good friend Joe Atkinson, who was helping out on my shoot, asked me one night if I had found an actress yet, and after I said rather stressfully, "No..." came back pretty much the next day with Paige as a suggestion. I'm so glad he did, because she came in and learned the part in no time and both her and Grant nailed their roles exactly as I had wanted that night we filmed. Also, for having just met and with no rehearsals, I was amazed at the chemistry they had on screen. It's a testament to their talent that they were able to slip into their characters' skin so effortlessly. I really couldn't be more pleased or proud of my cast for 13 AFTER MIDNIGHT.
The posters that have been circulating are incredible, who is responsible for the amazing artwork?
PJ: Nathan did all the artwork for the theatrical poster. He’s an incredible talent and I had wanted to work with him for a few years now. This project opened door to not only work with him as an artist but also as a writer/director. Being a friend first made it a little easier to approach him about it. Thankfully he liked the script for Encyclopedia Satanica and too accepted the offer.
Nathan: The photographed posters were the work of Mike Hall I believe. He was the on-set photographer to get behind-the-scenes images. The illustrated poster was my artwork. It's really more of what I am known for. I've been doing that professionally for about 8 years now. Most people know me from the 17 Blu-ray covers I have done for Scream! Factory. I like to joke that P.J. asked me to direct a segment in this film just so he could get a free poster art.
I have yet to see a negative review of ‘Volumes of Blood’, how does it feel to have your film be so well received in the horror community?
PJ: Humbling is the best word to describe it. My first film Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street did not have such a warm welcome. So I expected a similar outcome, yet that is not what has happened. It’s truly been an unexpected success on so many levels. A lot of heart and soul went into production. From conception to completion this film was crafted for horror fans by horror fans and I think that’s why this film seems to resonate so well with lovers of the genre. I assume someone will loathe it eventually, but we have yet to come across that critic after thirty-five plus reviews.
Nathan: The reviews have been totally unexpected. I am stunned really. We knew we had a no budget film here and only a few of us were experienced film makers. I still consider myself a novice at this. We also had so many limitations not only in budget but in time. We were given very little time to shoot the movie. Initially we were given 8 hours to dress sets, set up and shoot our segments and then break down and get out of the library. And impossible task, especially since Satanica ended up being a 24-minute long short. So basically we shot Satanica in nearly a third of the time a normal film needs to get that amount of footage. But stressed planning and surrounding myself with professional and talented cast and crew helped a lot. We knew we had a good script with Satanica--I re-wrote Todd's script about 8 times constantly fine tuning it and adding and subtracting. I think the success of the film has mostly been due to how unique it is in set up, the fact that we are wearing our horror hearts on our sleeves and that ultimately the movie keeps changing and remains a fun and enjoyable viewing experience. There is a little bit of everything in the film and any horror fan is bound to connect with something. And hell, at times, the movie is very funny. It feels very overwhelming that so many people are enjoying it.
Jakob: Yeah that's pretty crazy. Can't say I was expecting that one. But it's hard sometimes to see the good when you're rushing to finish a project with a tight deadline and you find yourself only focusing on everything that's wrong with what you're working on. It's really ultimately up to the audience to decide what works and what doesn't. It's pretty amazing and humbling to see the film so well received. I'm happy people seem to enjoy it.
Everyone knows that anthology films are made up of different segments inside of one big story, what was your favorite segment of the film?
PJ: The opening segment that recreates the feel and look of an eighty’s horror slasher. Even though I wrote, shot and directed that segment it still blows my mind how authentic it looks and feels. My actors Vixen Lucy Lynn and Kevin Clark knocked it outta the water with their performances. It needed just the right amount of camp and they pulled it off beautifully. The other segment I love is 13 After Midnight. I wrote that script specifically for Jakob and he really brought the vision to life. He added some great dialogue moments that were his own which really punched it up. From start to finish I think it’s just a really solid entry in the film.
What did you enjoy most working on the film?
PJ: Working with the cast and crew. It gave me a chance to work with some actors I’ve wanted to for a while, work with friends and meet new friends. I won’t lie and say that we didn’t get on eachothers nerves at time or that I didn’t have to be a dick producer; because I did. There was some tension here and there because of the hectic schedule, but in the end we all pulled our energy, resources and passions for the project together and created something truly awesome. I couldn’t be more proud of how the film turned out.
Nathan: Satanica was really for me the test to see if I was good at this or needed to hang it up. My first two film ventures were more of co-directing situations and while they were decent they were mostly beginner's efforts working out how to make these things called movies. They were learning experiences. Trial and error. On Satanica, it was the first time I was in 100% control of the production of this film. It was all on my shoulders. I was the director and I was allowed to re-writer the script and make it my own. The art direction, storyboarding and so on was all on me and I really did want that responsibility. I wanted to improve on past mistakes. I wanted to see if I could make the best film I have made thus far and I feel I have with this one. And a lot of that is owed to the wonderful cast and crew I had. I cannot say enough about that cast and especially my cinematographer and editor DP Bonnell whom I worked with almost daily for three months to get this film finished in time for the premiere. And then there was Tony McKee who nailed the score I had in my head. The biggest joy really was working with fellow artists in this area who I feel are some of the best and most talented the area has to offer today.
Jakob: I got to work with a lot of friends and colleagues who I enjoy collaborating with on this one and that's always rewarding. I really enjoyed working with my actors, Paige and Grant. The idea of the project, the skeleton of the anthology concept here, was fun to me. And P.J.'s script gave me a lot of room to play. I really enjoyed working on the chase scene, trying to find a way to make that visually interesting.
To what do you owe the success of the film?
PJ: Hands down it was the cast, crew, my community and our generous Kickstarter donors that allowed this project to see the light of day and I cannot thank them enough for it.
Nathan: Well, as I said, the cast and crew and all of the teams that worked putting it together, but a lot is due to P.J. Starks for being the films biggest cheerleader. P.J. has done some heavy, hard work in getting this film out to as many eyes and avenues as he possibly can. All of this attention and response is a testament to his faith in this project and his passion to share it with the world.
Jakob: I can't speak for the other filmmakers and their segments, but for me: caffeine. Well, that and the cast and crew who busted their asses, and all the blood sweat and tears that were poured into it by the directors, writers, and producers. But mostly the caffeine. And bourbon, during the editing process. Thank you, liquids.
How would you describe ‘Volumes of Blood’ in 3 words?
PJ: Complete horror awesomesauce.
Nathan: Old School Fun
Jakob: I don't know. It's a movie. Go see it. Tell your friends. Pretty pretty please.
Who are some of your influences?
PJ: I don’t get too artsy fartsy with answers to questions like these, Jakob and Nathan are the artsy farsty ones. I’m more Michael Bay and they’re more Lars Van Trier or Ingmar Bergman. My influences are Kevin Smith because he has such a way with dialogue, I love his films. Spielberg and Zemeckis are awesome. I also really like Adam Green and his films. How much room do you have for this answer?
Nathan: I am a big fan of all film in general. My influences range from everyone from Scorsese to Tarantino. Leone to Peckinpah. Or even Linklater to Fincher. On Satanica I can say the film definitely owes a great deal to artists like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, William Friedkin and Sam Raimi.
Jakob: That's a complex question to answer. In general my influences run anywhere from Bergman and Fellini, to Tarantino, Fincher and Scorsese. Argento and Fulci are huge influences on me as well, as is pretty much anything Italian from the 70s (give or take a decade). I guess to be more specific for 13 AFTER MIDNIGHT, I was aiming for an 80s horror throwback, with a dash of 70s Italian aesthetics. I knew once I figured out the element of the girl being drugged, that I had the opportunity to play with unconventional, unrealistic visuals and lighting setups. I kept thinking of horror films I grew up seeing in the 80s, with such hyperstylized color schemes (lots of reds and blues and greens). The original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was a heavy influence. Old school John Carpenter, too.
Everyone has their dream cast, if you could cast some of the horror icons in your next film, who would you cast
Nathan: I honestly think that horror plays much better when the cast is unknown. But we have seen plenty of examples where that is proven wrong of course. But great actors are out there waiting to be discovered. Stars were only the ones lucky enough to have landed the right roles in the right movies. I think the three actors I worked with on Satanica are stars in their own right. But sure I have those I'd love to work with. In terms of horror icons, people like Robert Englund, William Forsythe, Malcolm McDowell, John Jarratt, Phillipe Nahon, Dee Wallace, Brian Cox, Jeffrey Combs, Scott Wilson and Michael Rooker would be dreams to work with.
Jakob: Ah, I never know how to answer these sorts of questions... There's far too many actors I admire and would love to have the opportunity to work with in a dream scenario. So to avoid just name dropping a bunch of holyshitthatwouldbeamazingtoworkwiththem names, I'll narrow and single out specific old school, long-running icons I'd kill to cast. Actor - Udo Kier. The guy has been one of my favorite horror actors for years, and is on my short list of "I will watch any movie purely because they are in it" people. Actress - Edwige Fenech. She's about as big of a Horror Queen as they come, for me. There's a ton of recent up-and-comers who have impressed me over the years, too, in addition to the "icons" - in particular, I was insanely impressed with Jane Levy in the EVIL DEAD remake.
What advice do you have for the future filmmakers?
PJ: Don’t listen to the neigh sayers or the haters. Before and after a project. If you have an idea the first step is actually writing it and then getting off your ass to start amassing the people and resources you need to make it happen. Remember that until you film is edited and finalized you have no film and it would not be possible without a likeminded and passionate crew. Network, create and don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve done things that sucked balls and then I’ve made Volumes of Blood.
Nathan: Take left turns. It is fine to trade on familiar ground but always try to recognize when you are just doing the same things that have been done over and over for decades and be bold enough to go the other direction. In terms of indie film, get creative and try to use what you can to make up for it. Be mindful of all of the aspects of film. Art direction, marketing, art, set decoration, costuming...it is all important. Surround yourself with the best and most professional and passionate people you can find. Strive to produce quality instead of settling. And make sure you have a good story. A good story will help your audience forgive any other shortcomings the indie film may have. Some people won't give indie film a chance but if the characters and the story are compelling enough...you will grab hold of them and keep them until the final shot.
Jakob: Advice for future filmmakers... Also a complex question, and one I'm not certain I'm fully qualified to answer. But the best thing I can say is just go make something. Quit talking about it, get off your ass, and go make a movie. Grab some friends, borrow any shit you can. Shoot. Get that experience. Fail, and learn from it, and apply it on the next thing so you can make something better. Watch every film you can get your hands on. Study them. Find what speaks to you as a storyteller. But most of all - go make shit. Every filmmaker I know has a vault of material that no one gets to see because that's how they learned. Very rarely is a director's first film their ACTUAL first film. Also, go crew on other filmmaker's sets. Learn everything. Absorb that shit like a sponge. In my opinion, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
Do you have any projects coming up that you would like to shamelessly plug?
PJ: I’m an Executive Producer on a couple web-series that are in production called Welcome to the Harvest and River City Heroes: Ascendance. I’m also the Producer on ANOES fan film called The Confession of Fred Krueger directed by the man himself Nathan Thomas Milliner. There’s also talk of a sequel to Volumes of Blood, but I won’t give away too much there. Other than that I have my sights set on being a dad and husband.
Nathan: I am in pre-production of a fan film titled "The Confession of Fred Krueger." Something I wrote years and years ago. A prequel to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's a short. The Elm Street films are what got me into the genre of horror and I am really excited about this project. Working with a lot of the same people involved with Volumes of Blood. After that I plan to produce another short titled "The Dark and Bloody Ground." I have described it as No Country for Old Men meets The Wicker Man and Pumpkinhead. And then there is the very likely sequel to Volumes of Blood. I am working on scripting a new tale that is more comedic than Satanica was.
Jakob: Eh, okay, since you asked. My current feature, THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH - a modern, Mid-westernized 70s Giallo horror-meets-revenge-thriller throwback - is winding down its festival run and I'm hoping to have a release for it finalized soon. So go look up/check that one out, and I'm currently working through post production on my new feature, EMERGENCE - a psychological thriller about a serial killer and his first victim. Aiming to have that ready for festivals sometime in the fall, so keep an eye out.
*All photos in this article provided by PJ Starks & photographs credited to Mike Hall and Adam Paris*