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The Indie Film Group sat down to discuss the new horror film Volumes of Blood with co directors PJ Starks and Nathan Thomas Milliner.
(IFG) Tell us a little about yourselves.
PJ: I am an award winning independent filmmaker from Owensboro, KY with a long and varied filmography. My list of credits include the horror/comedy Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street, a psychological drama titled A Mind Beside Itself and most recently the horror anthology Volumes of Blood. I’ve over twelve years of experience as a professional videographer and editor; producing projects for the City of Owensboro, various private organizations and won a regional Gold Advertising award from the American Advertising Federation for my work on the WBKR Zombie Run campaign and subsequent docudrama Project Deathpack: A Deadumentary. In the last couple years I have produced a myriad of projects including the popular web series The Book of Dallas that has garnered over 1.5 million viewers and several film project such as Jakob Bilinski’s Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh and Kevin Chenault’s Lattie, now in production. I also serves as creator for The River City Festival of Films that in 2014 hosted RoboCop star Peter Weller , Unscripted: An Indie Film Xperience and the Unscripted Film School. Unscripted recently finished its 4th series and has spread across borders, starting an Evansville, IN version of this event. Currently I reside in Owensboro with my wife Katrina and two sons Logan and Connor.
Nathan: I am a professional artist from Louisville, Kentucky who is best known for my work producing blu ray cover art for Scream! Factory, NSM Records and The Ecstacy of Film. I’ve produced art for the releases of over 30 films such as Halloween 2-8, Day of the Dead, The Burning, The Howling, Motel Hell, Martyrs, The Exterminator, Night of the Comet, Night of the Demons, Dog Soldiers, Dolls and Sleepaway Camp 1-3. I have also been a staff artist and writer for HorrorHound Magazine since 2008 and have done work for Fright Rags, NECA, The Weinstein Co, Creepy Tees, Atomic Cotton, Trick or Treat Studios, Rotten Cotton and recently provided the book cover art for “Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street.” For my company Rebel Rouser Comics I have published over 14 comics and art books to date. On the side, I have worked as a film maker working on 3 different films at this point. “Girl Number Three” was a feature based on a comic book which I wrote the screenplay for. “A Wish for the Dead” is another feature based on my comic book that I wrote and directed. My latest work was co-writing and directing “The Encyclopedia Satanica” which was a segment in the new horror anthology film “Volumes of Blood.” I live in Louisville with his wife Brenda and daughter Lily.
(IFG) So what will people expect from Volumes of Blood?
PJ: Aside from the obvious, you’ll get some solid performances and some pretty intriguing stories which you don’t typically find in ultralow budget horror these days. The film is an anthology so you can expect everything from monsters, ghosts, demons, masked psycho’s, possessed books and a killer energy drink salesman. There’s a little something for every horror fan out there.
Nathan: Good old fashioned anthology fun. The best horror anthologies never take themselves too seriously and this one definitely doesn’t. Well, maybe mine does but 90% of this film is very funny and playful. So don’t go in expecting the usual mean spirited and cruel material but something you can pop in with a group of friends, grab a slice of pizza and just be entertained for 90 minutes like the good old days.
(IFG) What do you think makes Volume of Blood different from other horror films?
PJ: What makes it stand out from a lot of anthologies that come out is that it’s not a hodgepodge of previously produced works slapped together to make a film. All the stories in this film were written and crafted for the VOB universe that I’m creating. It also has a nice twist that hasn’t been done yet, so that seems to be a nice change for those who have seen it.
Nathan: Several things. Mostly the way it was made. It’s an experiment made with a lot of enthusiasm through the Unscripted Film School Program. So it was a learning experience for people of all ages to get to be on a movie set and see how they are made with potential to maybe one day do the same themselves. That alone makes it very different. What also makes it unique is that the entire film is 5 different tales yet are all shot and take place in the same location. A library. I can’t think of any other film other than maybe Four Rooms that did something like this. And of course, that wasn’t a horror film.
(IFG) What was your inspiration for making this film?
PJ: I’ve wanted to make an anthology for years and while working on another project this opportunity literally fell into my lap, so I snatched it up. Producer Jim Blanton, who also runs the Daviess County Public Library, and I co-created the Unscripted Film School as a way to engage our community to get involved with local filmmaking while giving local artists an chance to come be creative in an environment that most do have access to. The first film school went incredibly well, so Jim told me to rack my brain to come up with a way to grow the program and Volumes of Blood was born.
Nathan: After I finished my directorial debut with A Wish for the Dead I wasn’t sure if I would make another film. My art career was chaotic and making movies was something I looked at as a hobby. My art had now became my job and making movies was how I had fun. SO I had an itch but realistically had no idea if I would ever make another film. I figured if I did I would abandon the horror genre and make something else but there was a small part of me that really wanted to make something scary. My first film, Girl Number Three was written to be very dark and disturbing and suspenseful and while it had some of that, the direction it took from my screenplay to screen became more popcorn than I intended. It was a fun movie but I don’t know if it was scary. My second film, Wish, was much more dramatic and psychologically damaging rather than flat out scary. It worked on a different emotion than your traditional scary movie. SO I thought if I make another horror film I want to make something more scary than the others. The only genre that really ever scared me in horror were supernatural films. Stuff like The Exorcist, The Entity, Amityville Horror, The Shining and Poltergeist. Demons and ghosts. So I really wanted to make something like that. Luckily PJ asked me to direct one of the segments in VOB and one of the three scripts I was handed involved hauntings and demons. The script was a bit funny like the others but I quickly asked PJ if I could take it and make it my own. I have never worked on anything I didn’t create or write so I had to make it my own to do it right for me. He gave me the chance to do that so I reworked the screenplay Todd Martin had written and did about 7 rewrites on it before I had it where I wanted. Just trying to make it as disturbing and sinister and scary as I could while adding a lot of style and flavor to it with costume, set decoration, costuming and props. I never felt I had been able to make my full vision on film from my previous work so I took The Encyclopedia Satanica as my chance to finally put 100% of my vision on the screen. PJ allowed me that level of control over the project which was awesome. I am a fan of 1970’s cinema so that was my major inspiration for how I handled this film. I like slow burns. I like drama. I like atmosphere. I like letting a film breathe. So that was my main inspirations in making Satanica. Make it scary, be patient with it and try to make every line and every frame matter. I was also inspired not to turn in the worst of the 5. Anthologies are traditionally hit or miss where audiences will walk out saying which ones they liked and which ones they didn’t. So I had a real fear of not delivering the goods based on my inexperience. I was I believe the least experienced director on the project which terrified me. I can also say that my inspiration rested in the hands of my cast and crew. I was blessed with such talent around me that I felt such comfort, trust and faith in what we would get.
(IFG) Where can people see this film?
PJ: The film recently had its Friday the 13th premiere and now we’re prepping it for film festivals. The best way to keep track is by becoming a fan on facebook. That way you can see where the film might be screening near you.
(IFG) Are there any plans for a sequel?
PJ: I promised my wife a short break, but yeah I already have the concepts for both a part two and three as well as a potential web series that I’d like to have shot before the year is out.
Nathan: There has been talk about a sequel. Many ideas thrown around. There is a part of me that wants to get back in there and see what we can do. But there is another side of me that thinks I should leave it be as I am so proud of Satanica and what my team pulled off and feel that maybe whatever we did in a sequel would be less. Not that we lack the ability to do it again but that everything seemed to really work on this particular film and I’d be afraid of not hitting the same mark. But I have to say I am really intrigued about the idea of a follow up. I think I’d really want to keep my same cast and crew though. See what would come from it. I do think a sequel will happen but no idea if I will be involved or not. If I were asked to return I would.
(IFG) What were some of the challenges that you had creating this project?
PJ: One of the biggest challenges was creating a schedule for the 50 some odd cast and crew members that would work to shoot five short films over a period of four months. Four months sound like a lot of time, however, there were extreme time stipulations because of the film school program that only allowed each filmmaker one night and eight hours to shoot their segments. There were some pick up nights, but that too had to be carefully scheduled. With nearly a hundred artists attached to the project it was a chore to try and keep as many happy as possible. I know that some walked away with a sour taste in their mouths, but at the end of the day it’s about making a good film using what you have. I had some amazing talent involved with this project and despite a few setbacks I think the final project speaks for itself.
Nathan: So many challenges it could take all day to discuss it. I will try to be brief. First off the time limit. The original plan was each director would have 8 hours to get in, shoot their film and get out. Immediately a red flag went up for many of us. While I was kind of a novice I realized that 8 hours was not going to be enough for me to film Satanica. Not if I wanted to make it good. On paper I knew Satanica was the longest of the 5 films (it’s nearly 10 minutes longer than the second longest segment) and I knew there was no way to film it in that time frame. My film involved complex make-up, a lot of moving around the building and a few obstacles involving the cast. The first hiccup was one actor was not going to be able to be there for the shoot until 2 hours before we would have to be out of the building. This was going to create a lot of extra time needed for cleaning up sets and actors before shooting him. Thankfully he made a sacrifice and came about 90 minutes earlier than originally planned. Then at the rehearsal with my cast I discovered that my leading lady, Kristine Renee Farley who I had personally chosen to play the lead (the other cast were cast to the film before I was hired) was now in incredible pain dealing with some serious spinal injuries in her lower back. She was visibly in terrible pain. Her role required a lot of physical stuff so I was afraid for her health and whether or not she could handle the role. She assured me she could do it. And to this day I do not understand where she got the strength to because I had a very similar problem with my back in 2009 and her back was worse than mine and the stuff she did on this film there was no way I could have done it. This film is really a testament to Kristine’s professionalism and strength. So on that first night we lost an hour due to having to dress the set. Then we had problems with audio and lost another 45 minutes and make-up took longer than expected so immediately I was told I would get a second night because of the problems with audio. If I was going to have a problem shooting a 24 minute film in under 8 hours there was no way I could do it in just under 7. But we treated it like we only had one night and got 100 shots. 17 minutes of the film in only 6.5 hours of shooting. On night two I was given 5 hours (4 once you factor in set dressing and clean up) to get the remaining 7 minutes of footage. But then another problem arose. The wardrobe department had taken Kristine’s belt for her dress home with them and they were not there that night. So we could not shoot Kristine below the chest. Which limited what I could shoot until we got hold of the wardrobe person and got the belt there. So we lost about another 30 minutes due to this. I started to feel cursed. We got it finished and my editor DP Bonnell began editing. But because of the break neck speed we shot at to get it done, we had tons of problems. People standing in and walking into shots. Shots with no audio. Shots where the continuity didn’t work because we had no time to pay attention to it. So it left us with little options in the editing. DP basically said the movie was a piece of crap. But I was optimistic. We went to work on it, going back and forth for months. I started to realize that the movie needed another 10 shots to work. Desperately I needed at least one hour to shoot pick ups so this movie could be salvaged. SO they gave me one hour. I went in and right away, the curse reared its ugly head. DP had been shooting pick ups that same night for “13 After Midnight“–another segment in the film. When it was time to shoot our footage he told me his screen was turning black and his battery was dying. So he was charging it. After ten minutes of waiting the battery wasn’t taking a charge. So we plugged it into the wall. Set up our first shot, lit the actor and started rolling when DP looks back and me and says, “It’s dead.” The camera was broken. It would not take a charge even plugged in to the wall. Seriously? So luckily DP had another camera in his bag but it was a different camera and the footage would not match the primary footage. I didn’t care. I had 35 minutes now to get these 10 shots and save our film. A lot of us had driven for hours to be there and there was no time to come back later. So in a mad rush we shot the 10 shots in 30 minutes and rushed to get out. Then there was the audio. One critical sequence in the film the levels were so low that when you turned it up the background noise killed the dialogue. We had over 8 audio people look at it and try to save it with the same results. We were doomed. ADR didn’t work out well and we were lost. Then Roman and Chris, two professionals in the industry I knew offered to fix it with their high end software and they worked magic and literally saved our film at the zero hour. So yes…a lot of challenges. But we made it through it and are very proud of the segment.
(IFG) How was your film received at the March 13th aka Friday the 13th premiere?
PJ: The reaction to the film was phenomenal. It was a horror film made for horror fans, by horror fans so I feel that we definitely nailed our target audience. After talking with most everyone from the film I know they get tons of compliments. You can’t please every viewer so I’m sure that there were some negative comments, but most everything I heard was very positive. We just started sending out the film for professional reviews. I guess we’ll know soon enough if we truly did our jobs.
Nathan: The film was very well received at the premiere. People seemed to really enjoy it. It was the most impressive turn outs for an indie film I had ever seen. Nearly 400 people came out to see it. I was met with a lot of positive feedback from the audience and crew and cast afterwards. People really seemed to like the movie and many said Satanica was their favorite. Even PJ said his wife Katrina jumped up out of her seat after my segment ended and ran over to him to tell him how good it was. He said that was not common for her. So lets just say I was very happy that night and proud of what our team had pulled off. It made most of us very excited to get it out to the world.
(IFG) What did you learn from making this film?
PJ: No one produces because they want to be loved. With as massive a project as this was, I had to learn that the hard way. Sometimes it’s tough to light fires under the asses of your friends, but ultimately you have deadlines and with this project there was money being spent which means it had to get finished no matter what. There was little room for error, but thankfully I didn’t have to be as big an asshole as some Producers I’ve heard about. That’s all thanks to the incredibly passionate, talented and dedicated people I was working with.
Nathan: I learned that planning is everything. A lot of people thought I planned too much on Satanica. I know I drove my crew and cast bonkers with the constant messages and updates and details. But I knew the task ahead. I knew we had an impossible mission and the thing I learned most on my previous films was what not to do. I really had minimum control on Girl and Wish and the lack of communication and planning created a lot of problems I felt. I wanted to be sure I did things right this time and that everyone understood their jobs, understood what I wanted, were all on the same page and would be able to nail it when we hit the set. I learned that you need to always surround yourself with the best people you can. The reason Satanica worked was because I had a great cast, a great cinematographer and a great make-up artist in Lisa Duvall. Not to mention a great composer in Tony McKee who nailed the score I asked for. I totally trusted them. Don’t try to do everything yourself. I was watching this new horror film the other day and got a laugh at a line in the film. This guy had hired another film guy to make a movie with him that day. He asked the guy what he could do. The guy said he could direct, edit, shoot, act, write and then referred to himself as a jack of all trades. The director then replied, “But a master of none.” Find people who are good at what they do and let them do it. Don’t just cast anyone–cast the right person. Put ego aside and realize that everyone on set is really good at what they have chosen to focus on. When I was looking for a DP I asked Kristine and Kevin who in the area (as I was from out of town) who were the best DP’s around. They gave me two names and described them. The first they said was good but he would only shoot what you told him to. The second was good and if he felt what you were doing was wrong he would tell you. He would argue with you. So I chose the latter. Why? Because if someone is willing to argue with you over the shot then that means they care about their work. They are passionate. They care what their name goes on. SO if DP was the kind of guy who would tell me that a shot sucked then he was the guy I wanted on my team. DP’s passion is the picture. He has worked as a director himself but his passion, his goal is cinematography. He wants the best picture and shots possible. Luckily we were on the same page and he liked my storyboarded shots and he was able to execute them to perfection. Think about the details, realize good ideas come from everywhere. Never stop working on the script. Make sure it is as good as it can be. Listen to others. Hire the right people and trust them to do what they do best. The only way our film was shot in such little time with so many obstacles was because of all of the planning and the attention to picking the right people.
(IFG) And our last question. Is the short “The Preylude” a part of the film or just a promotional teaser?
PJ: Yes and no. The Preylude is an online exclusive short film that explains how one of the victims of a serial killer gets into the predicament that we find her at in the feature. You can see Volumes of Blood without having seen The Preylude, but it’s an expansion of that universe. It was originally intended to just be a promotional video, but has since spawned the possibility of a web series that will play into both sequels.
Here is the link to the Volumes of Blood Facebook Page:
Check out the Trailer: