Interview with Sanj Surati and John Iwasz
1. Tell us who you are.
We are Sanj Surati and John Iwasz and we are the co-founders of Small Basket Studios. We’ve been
making short films since July of 2011. We got into filmmaking as the result of a backyard homebrewing
session at John’s house when, after a few beers we got it into our heads that it would be funny to film a
couple of zombies brewing beer and moaning “Grainnssss”. We made our first shorts, Brewing for
Zombies and Grilling For Zombies, a couple of weeks later and continued on from there. We originally
named our production company “For Zombies Productions” and later realized that the name
pigeonholed us, so after consuming more beer, around late 2013 rebranded ourselves as Small Basket
Studios.
2. So why do you make films?
We both have always had a love for B-horror films and also have a very skewed sense of humor. In our
day jobs, we work in the software industry. Filmmaking has become our creative outlet, allowing us to
create our wacky visions and share them with others. We don’t think of ourselves as horror filmmakers
per se. We see our work as more a theatre of the absurd if anything. Our films do use horror elements,
but we like to put them in situations where they become more ridiculous than terrifying. And we’re
grateful we both have spouses that give us playtime.
3. What are your top 3 favorite films?
Sanj: Blazing Saddles, This Is Spinal Tap, Dawn of the Dead
John: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,
Young Frankenstein
4. How do these films influence you in your work?
We don’t know that they particularly influence our work, other than our first films focused on zombies
as a gimmick to wrap our subject matter around. We saw zombies as what we called the Keystone Cops
of the world of horror. Our zombies are more a danger to themselves than others. In that way, we
suppose we’re also adding the comedic elements, but generally nothing that references those films.
Our film Zombie Casserole is really a film about racism and civil rights, so in having an underlying
message, it is similar to Romero’s films that also used zombies as a vehicle for telling a story concerning
a much deeper topic.
Really, our films, each in their own way, deal with absurd situations and unflinchingly take them on.
5. If you had a million dollar budget what kind of film would you make and who would star in it?
We would immediately revert to our original modus operandi of making a quick five minute short film
starring ourselves for less than 500 bucks and pocket the remaining $999,500.
6. So how did you come up with Zombie Casserole?
The core idea of the film was John’s. He proposed the idea of doing a take on Guess Who’s Coming To
Dinner? but using zombies, and Sanj agreed that this would be fun. At the point we started that project
we had been making short films for just over a year, but they had all starred us. This was our first
project where we were strictly behind the camera. As with all of our productions, we co-wrote,
produced, directed, shot, and edited the film. About the only things we didn’t do, were act, and do the
music and sound design. For music and sound design we defer to a childhood friend of Sanj’s, Shmoolie
aka Spencer Lerner. He has provided music for all of our films. In the case of Zombie Casserole he didn’t
just provide music – he scored the film, did the sound design and the final audio mix. Humans, the title
song for the film was included in Dr. Demento’s 2013 Halloween show.
We completed the film in 2013 and it has gone on to win Outstanding Comedy Short at the 2013 Zedfest
and Best Comedy at the 2014 Fantastic Horror Film Festival. The poster was designed by an artist friend,
Paul Palcko and it won Best Poster at the 2014 Macabre Faire Film Festival. Not bad for our first real
script.
7. Where can people see this film?
The film is available for purchase on our website at:
http://www.smallbasketstudios.com/product/zombie-casserole-dvd/
In the spirit of our DIY productions, we worked with Paul to make the DVD cover, then authored the
DVDs ourselves and had them professionally printed. All money we get from selling our films goes back
into our productions and helps support our insanity.
8. What is one of your most craziest behind the scenes adventure?
During the shoot for Zombie Casserole we had one scene where a character is eaten by a small horde of
zombies. We shot the scene in John’s front yard and managed to stop traffic. People were literally
stopping their cars in the middle of the road. We suppose it’s not often one sees a horde of zombies
tearing up a body on a quiet suburban lawn.
9. What is next for you?
We just recently completed our next short film Spammer. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s stories of the
occult, Spammer is the cautionary tale of an Internet scam-artist whose annoying messages hook an
unexpected victim. Be careful what you phish for.
Spammer is another horror-comedy, once again with emphasis on comedy. Our leads were Mahesh
Kotagi and Marc Kaye, both NYC and Philadelphia area comics. We rounded out the cast with Shawn
Poston, Abigail Foster and Victor Milbourne, all local Philly area actors. For practical effects we used
Thomas Smith, Jr. who was trained at Tom Savini’s school in Pittsburgh. Once again, music and sound
design were done by Shmoolie aka Spencer Lerner.
10. Where can people see more of your work?
All of our early short films as well trailers for our more recent films, can be found on our “For Zombies”
YouTube channel.
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgVNDopi609tC11gAe1JhVA
11. What is one tip you think other film makers should know?
Learn basic project management. One thing we’ve found is that the project management skills we have
from our day jobs have come in incredibly handy when working on films. We try to plan our productions
so that people are fed and don’t work ridiculous hours. That’s not to say we have been perfect. We’ve
done shoots where we were over-optimistic and people ended up working late, but we like to think
we’ve learned and gotten better at our time management.
12. Tell us whatever you want! Promote what ever you want! And make sure to send us some links to
some trailers!
The fact that we are making films now and travelling around the country to see them screened is
something neither one of us could have imagined five years ago. We are constantly amazed to see
strangers be entertained by our wacky visions. This is all the more so, since neither of us has a
background in filmmaking. John had some skill from being a photographer, but everything we’ve
accomplished so far is one hundred percent self-taught. The truth of the matter is that we’ve never let
the fact that we weren’t sure what we were doing stop us from moving forwards.
The trailer for Zombie Casserole can be found here: http://youtu.be/szQfZME66Xo and the film’s
website is here: http://www.smallbasketstudios.com/portfolio-item/zombie-casserole/
The trailer for Spammer can be found here: http://youtu.be/2jdy416O6z0 and the Facebook page here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spammer/976832815665489
The website for Small Basket Studios can be found here: http://www.smallbasketstudios.com and our
Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/smallbasketstudios

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