Gabe Powers talks to the director of Live Feed, and regrets his negative review...
On 22nd September of this year (2006) I wrote up a review for a little horror film called Live Feed. I hated it. I wrote a scathing review. It was a little on the mean side. Looking back, with a clearer head, and better understanding of the film, I do regret my reaction a bit. I still don't think the film was good, but my violent dismay was most likely brought on by the fact that I really wanted to like the film.
Some time after my review went up director Ryan Nicholson somehow got word on it, and replied in the comment section. Now, honestly, I partially expected a response from the director after seeing his hands-on website, and figuring the fact that this was his first major DVD release. I prepared myself with a response for what I was sure would be a venomous reaction to my review. "If you can't take a little critical slagging, get outta the business", I was going to say.
I was shocked when Nicholson turned out to be a decent guy. He was obviously a little angry in his response, but handled himself well. After updating my review to state clearly that Live Feed was not actually a rip off of Eli Roth's Hostel (though I still say MTI is trying to cash in on Roth's film), I stopped by the Live Feed website and dropped Ryan an E-Mail. I decided that if he was game, I'd like to interview him about his film, and maybe set the record a bit straighter than I left it.
Anyone who read my previous attempt at an interview (read all about it here) knows I'm not very good at it. So rather than mucking about with telephones and tape recorders, I decided to make this one easy on myself, I made it an E-Mail interview. Here's what my new gore-hound friend had to say.
DVDActive: Tell us about yourself and your work.
Ryan Nicholson: I've been a fan of horror movies since I was child. I loved the Universal Monsters and took a tour of Universal Studios back in the early 80s. I think they were shooting Scarface there at the time. I remember the Jaws ride and the Psycho house. Like the saying in Goodfellas goes "I always knew I wanted to be a gangster", while in my case, a film-maker/monster-maker!
My Father took me to all of the 80's horror movies in the theatre and I was hooked. I knew I had to get into the movie business. Making monsters seemed like the logical choice since I loved the creature FX and gore in a big way. I started practising make-up FX on my friends until I glued my good buddies hair to his head! The glue wouldn't come out no matter what we tried. Eventually we had to shave his head. Damn. But I stuck with make-up FX, just moving on to sculpting busts and monsters in clay. I stayed away from living people until I knew what I was doing.
When I went to junior high I was big into theatre and drama class, but not in the acting sense, more in the theatrical make-up area, making up the other students and being the "go to" guy for Halloween make-ups. This led me to student films in high school and eventually to low-budget feature films. Heavy metal music and "Eddie" from the band Iron Maiden always inspired me to. There's something about horror movies and metal music, the fact that they both stray very far away from the mainstream has always appealed to me.
DVDActive.com: You've worked make-up on a lot of big budget films, do you have any fun anecdotes about Hollywood types?
Nicholson:I met Christopher Lee a short while back and it's amazing at how candid an actor of that calibre will be with someone who’s interested in listening. I asked Mr. Lee about his experiences with Jess Franco when they did the Fu Manchu movies and he had such funny stories to tell. Most fans want to hear about his Lord of the Rings or Stars Wars characters, but me, it was about Fu Manchu and I think he really appreciated that.
A great friend of mine is Jon Voight. I was doing test make-ups for him for the upcoming Transformers movie and he invited me and my girlfriend/FX artist Michelle to stay at his house in Beverly Hills. I had done a few movies with Jon, doing his make-up FX, but staying at his house and standing in front of his Oscar which he won for Best Actor for Coming Home is a little surreal. In fact, I didn't want to touch the Oscar. It was like if I did I would wake up and this crazy career of mine would've all been a dream. Jon is such a brilliant actor and the nicest guy I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I once took Frank Oz and my crew out for dinner and it's amazing at how many people want Mr. Oz to do "Yoda" and "Ms. Piggy". It must get old after awhile for him but he's still so friendly with fans. I remember him saying "No, not right now.", to one lady that approached him but in the voice of Ms. Piggy! It was great.
As far as interesting things, I remember some disgruntled employees of mine that I had fired stole Ben Affleck's headcast that my studio had done for "Reindeer Games" and hid it under a storage container. That was very odd. And I remember another guy trying to sell prosthetic items on eBay that belonged to a Sci-Fi series I had done and almost getting sued for that. It's a very odd business when your dealing with artists, they are very irrational at times and downright insulting and abusive at others. I prefer to work only with my girlfriend and father nowadays and not hire outside of the family. There's too many flakes in this business, it's enough to drive you crazy.
DVDActive.com: I know a certain editor of this very website that would love me to ask you some questions about the Transformers movie. Are you a fan of the old cartoon? Any other tid-bits?
Nicholson:When I first got the call about the Transformers movie, I was like, "dream job". I had an awesome strong jaw sculpture that I had done for Jon Voight on another movie that got shelved. It was a great look and would've suited his "General Keller" character on Transformers but the time wasn't there to work out the look quick enough. I did a test make-up in LA on him with silicone prosthetics that the guys at Burmans ran up for me really fast. I'm a gelatin appliance guy, and wasn't used to silicone so the piece I had was literally the first piece of silicone I'd ever applied. It looked good but not great. With no time to get pieces made, we scrapped the look, but I'm sure we'll use it for another character on Jon one day.
He's a great actor and didn't even need it for Transformers. He had everything perfected before I'd arrived. The character's voice, mannerisms, etc. I'm eager to hear about his time shooting that movie. In any case, I used to collect Transformers when I was a kid. Soundwave was my favourite. Those cassettes that transformed into a dog and a wicked bird! I had almost all of them, Optimus Prime and Megatron in the original boxes. When I was a teenager I thought that I was too cool for toys so I sold them!! All of them for like 100 bucks! I thought it was a deal but now I look back and am like "I should've kept them!". I love cartoons. Thundercats, He-Man and Inhumanoids were among my favourites.
DVDActive.com: That sound familiar, I sold all my Star Wars toys to my uncle for $100 when I was about 10 years old. I can’t really blame him because he honestly didn’t know what they were worth, but I really hated myself around the time The Phantom Menace came out.
Who are your idols, and what are your favourite films?
Nicholson:I truly admire the Masters of Italian horror. Directors that come to mind are Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi and Joe D'Amato. I also admire American directors such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma. My favourite films range from Cannibal Holocaust to Street Trash, Ms.45, Mean Streets, Scarface, Once Upon a Time in America, Porky's, and Joysticks! I love movies - all genres - but horror is where my true passion lies. I love the 80's. From cheesy comedies like Hotdog and Joysticks, to fantasy classics like Conan The Barbarian, and horror like The Howling and The Fog.
DVDActive.com: Ah, I think I may see the rift in our tastes. I never liked those ‘80s sex-comedies. I just never thought they were very funny. I can see a lot of them in Live Feed, and that has a lot to do with my negative reception of it. That might be important for viewers to keep in mind when reading my review. I’m very happy to hear you mention the Italian Masters though.
Nicholson:Come on! You didn't like Hamburger or Private Lessons!? I remember skipping school to watch all that stuff on HBO or Cinemax back in the ‘80s. I also watched a ton of pay TV horror like The Keep and Happy Birthday to Me. We didn't have pay TV at home, I'd go to a friend’s house and they'd have stacks of tapes. Can someone say "copyright infringement"?
DVDActive.com: How important do you find film criticism, especially in the realms of the gore film?
Nicholson:I enjoy constructive criticism. If someone has something to offer me, some insight to how I can be a better film maker, I listen. I like creative reviews of my movies. If someone hates my movies but is creative in voicing their opinion, I'm all for it. I just laugh at idiots who are spiteful or jealous at my success and reveal themselves just as that with the hateful comments they make on message boards or public forums. Do these people have nothing better to do then dwell over lil' ole me?
DVDActive.com: On the Hard Candy DVD, the director mentions that he was proud of his negative reviews because it meant he affected someone. Do you feel the same way?
Nicholson:I don't set out to shock people. I just like to make movies for myself, what I want to see. If the viewer digs it, that's a bonus to me. I don't promise things, like "This is the sickest, goriest movie ever made!". When you do that, you're setting yourself up for a big time fall. I really don't think a negative review is problematic with Live Feed. It seems as though horror fans either love it or hate it. I did what I wanted with Live Feed and the rest is up to the viewer.
I like to talk with horror fans in general about my movie. The people that take the time to write an informative review, I'll give them the time of day. But some moron just hating on the movie is wasting their time, if they're trying to get a reaction from me, they fail. The fans that dig the movie get huge props from me and I won't forget the people that have stuck with me. Live Feed is a movie that has an awesome fan base, and I'm very thankful that these viewers, and I have similar tastes in gory movies. It makes me very excited for my next picture.
DVDActive.com: Critique the critic. I gave your hard made film a very negative review. Was there any specific thing I said in my critique that you think was particularly off base? Was there anything you took particularly personally, or was it all water off a duck's back?
Nicholson:The thing I enjoyed about your review was that it was entertaining to read. Even though it was at my movie's expense, I couldn't deny that it was well written and laugh out loud funny. That's the thing, Live Feed isn't going to win anybody an Oscar but even if a review, that is well written and entertaining, comes from it, I think that it's a great thing. I think certain critics take stabs at me like I promised the world and didn't deliver, but the truth is I never promised anyone anything. I can't tell the distributor how to market the movie. They're in the business to make money, so they'll market it the most viable way they can, and if they choose to ride the wave of a successful movie like Hostel; I can't help that and as a matter of fact, I commend them for it because now that Live Feed is a success, I can make another movie. If Live Feed was a flop, I'd be in the dog house with the distributor and the cast, crew which all worked their asses off for (so) little.
With Live Feed, I wanted to pay homage to a ton of movies. I used the "tourists in trouble" formula which sure as hell wasn't started with Hostel, and I put my own spin on it. I incorporated gangsters and criminal activity into this well worn but successful formula, put a "racism can get you killed" theme into it, and thus it became Live Feed. Believe it or not, there is a theme in Live Feed, the big dumb white jock character is a racist, a loud mouth who gets his group of friends in deep doo-doo with his racial outbursts. This kind of behaviour is idiotic, and maybe after someone watches Live Feed, they'll think twice about insulting other cultures.
The Asian cast in Live Feed was so supportive of my movie, and never questioned me about my dog scene or tempura dicky roll appetizers. The Asian cast knew what I was trying to do and they thought it was fantastic that I would take on these racial undertones in society and make a horror movie out of it.
But back to your review in question. I took it all with a grain of salt. You have a job to inform and entertain, if Live Feed wasn't your cup of green tea, that doesn't mean it won't be someone else’s.
DVDActive.com: I honestly would like to have seen more of the racial undertones. I think it was a good idea.
Nicholson:My Father/co-writer of Live Feed, Roy Nicholson, is still pissed off that we cut most of the racist undertones out. I do include them as deleted scenes on the DVD but my editor seemed to think it slowed the pacing down. Looking back and ahead, maybe I'll do a "Director's Cut" as this version was a team effort - more so than my own vision 100%. Vince D'Amato is a great editor and one of my best friends but we differed on certain things. Like, I wanted more gore, more blood spray. Vince thinks less is more. I'm the opposite. But he did such a wicked job, and I'm happy with Live Feed, but who says I can't revisit it?
DVDActive.com: Sometimes less is more, but I think in this case more may’ve been called for. I know I would’ve preferred more over-the-top violence.
Honestly, though, when you first heard about Hostel, were you a bit pissed-off?
Nicholson:I was pissed off in a big way because I knew the "rip off" and "poor man's version" comments would be coming at me from all angles. I knew that there was a public record indicating that my movie was made before and announced way before Hostel, but no one really gives a s**t about that in the bigger scheme of things. The best way to get someone reading an article or review about Live Feed is to put the word Hostel in the first sentence. It was obviously the best way to sell Live Feed as well.
I'm a fan of Eli Roth and I loved Cabin Fever. When I finally saw Hostel and could honestly say that the movies are not at all alike, I was relieved. With Hostel 2 coming out next year, and Live Feed 2 in the works, the audience for harder edged horror will have an awesome 2007!
DVDActive.com: I admit I thought it was a total cash-in, but I did update a few bits in my review when I found out I was wrong. Roth has said that the inspiration behind Hostel was Takashi Miike, I saw some signs of Miike in your film too. And did you hear that Deadato may be making a guest appearance in Hostel 2?
I wanted to pay homage to Miike. I love his movies! Audition, Ichi: The Killer, and Dead or Alive are so damn wicked. The whole "gangster" element of Live Feed can be attributed to him and Martin Scorsese, whose Mean Streets and Goodfellas are big influences. It's great Roth has the dough to bring in those iconic directors like "Miike" and "Deodato" to make cameos. It's awesome for a fan. Roth's a fan and it shows big time as does myself being a big fan of the horror genre.
DVDActive.com: Though obviously meant to be disturbing, Live Feed has intentions of entertaining. What do you think about some of the nearly plotless gore films making the rounds these days, like the August Underground stuff?
Nicholson:My good friend, Killjoy of Necrophagia produced August Underground and actually most of the gory bodies, the dead baby and the little girl in the bathtub at the end of the movie came from me. I didn't know it at the time, Killjoy said he was making a music video and needed those props. I sent him crates of bodies and severed limbs, little did I know they'd end up in that movie. When he showed me the movie, I was pissed off to see that silicone little girl prop getting sodomized by Mikey Maggot, I was pissed because I could get sued! That little girl is a lifecast of a real girl. Did she know she'd be in that movie, nope, neither did I!
Putting that aside, I dig what Toe Tag was trying to do with August Underground but that kind of movie isn't really my style. I like gratuitous sex and violence, but I also like a plot, a theme of some sort to keep my interest. The violence of Live Feed is over-the-top but there is a point to it, a reason for it. There's a structure to Live Feed, albeit a thin one. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end.
DVDActive.com: I met the director, Fred Vogel, briefly at Chicago’s Flashback Weekend this year. He came with the folks at xploitedcinema.com. Seemed like a nice guy, though I have to admit I’ve never seen his film. I was tempted to ask for a review copy, but decided that it probably wasn’t quite the right thing for my site.
Nicholson:August Underground is worth a watch just to see what Vogel and co. did with a video camera and creative editing. I'm looking forward to Fred Vogel's new one, The Redsin Tower. I think xploitedcinema.com produced it, and it looks great [interviewer's note: the fine folks at xploitedcinema did, in fact, produce the film, I asked]. It's amazing nowadays with digital technology, with Live Feed I do think most of it looks like film, and the same thing for Redskin Tower, it looks wicked. It's all in the lighting for sure.
DVDActive.com: Is there any line not worth crossing?
I'm not interested in child murder. A good friend of mine, Nick Palumbo, did that with his Murder Set Pieces, and it's caused him nothing but trouble. He's in a no win situation. Some horror fans say he's trying too hard to shock, and other viewers are truly repulsed by what he's done, and hate him for it. Then the people that actually dig the film get accused of "spamming" the Internet for him! It's just a tough place to be in. He's a brilliant film maker, and his movie hasn't gotten a fair shake. I hope he has better success with his next movie. I'm very eager to see what he has up his sleeve.
DVDActive.com: I gave your film a hard time, but I will admit that it looked fun to make. I never got to see the special features, so tell me a little about the film making process.
Nicholson:Money. It all starts with enough money to put together a cast and crew. Enough money to get your locations locked down and your gear. Then it's all blood, sweat, and tears for 3 weeks of all-night shooting. Then it's months in editing both picture and sound. Then it’s trying to get a deal, and once you get a deal, waiting for the release and the financial return so you can do it all over again, if you're a glutton for punishment! But don't forget the critics and armchair cynics, that's when you need to have skin thicker than a Florida gator!
DVDActive.com: How did you manage to score working actors? It seems such meagrely budgeted films are usually staring the director and producer's best friends.
Nicholson:We went about making
Live Feedthe same way any big-budgeted movie does. We went to agencies and the Unions to get what is called "ultra low-budget" agreements or in other words, deals where actors and crew will work for a fraction of the cost, knowing they'll get residuals after the fact. I had Emily Perkins of the Ginger Snaps trilogy lined up to be in
Live Feedat one time as well as William Sanderson of Blade Runner and Savage Weekend. I also had Michael Moriarty of Q and The Stuff on the verge of signing. But the problem is the Unions, you simply can't pay certain actors more than others with these agreements. You have to pay equally across the board. So needless to say, I couldn't afford to pay every actor in Live Feed the same rate that say, William Sanderson was going to charge.
In the end, I'm very happy and proud of the cast that came on board and I know most reviews take cheap shots at the acting but that was the way I wanted it. Over the top and campy! I wrote the script with these performances in mind and the actors came through exactly as planned.
DVDActive.com: I’ve heard Moriarty is difficult to work with. It may’ve added a fan base to your film, but you may’ve also dodged a bullet.
Nicholson:I've heard that to, but he seems like a nice guy, and I do hope to work with him one day. I was prepared for anything, but never had the chance to find out. He's really busy these days on films and TV. Hopefully he'll stick around Vancouver long enough for me to work with him.
DVDActive.com: I just reviewed him in Larry Cohen’s Masters of Horror entrée, [/i]Pick Me Up[/i]. He’s still a great actor.
Did you have the DVD in mind while filming?
Nicholson:I knew I wanted a killer "making-of" so we rolled b-cam on everything, and put together Behind the Blood: The Making of Live Feed, which is actually longer than the movie itself! It's a great piece of work, and anyone who watches it will see how much fun we had making the movie. Macabre, a great metal band from Chicago, let me use their music for Behind the Blood. Everyone that supports my vision really stepped up to bat for Live Feed, and I thank each and every one of you guys and gals!
DVDActive.com: Has your face ever made it into a DVD special feature other than your own film that you know of? In the background?
Nicholson:My Father and I had a cameo in Live Feed. Two white, penniless bums, which we felt like after the movie, on the streets homeless which tied into the fact that Live Feed (spoilers ahead folks) takes place in Chinatown, not China. I cut it out because I wanted the audience left hanging on where the film takes place. A few viewers figure it out with the White cop at the end but the English signs all over the place aren't a giveaway if anyone knows anything about Hong Kong, there are English signs all over the place there too.
DVDActive.com: Tell our more inspired reader what they have to do to get a movie made and released on DVD.
Nicholson:You have to write a script, something that can be filmed with the budget you then have to gather. You need to be open to changes within the script if others have some say in your movie. For instance, Live Feed had a huge kung-fu fight in the Night Market at the beginning of the movie, but it was cut out of the script when the stunt co-coordinator for the movie asked me, "Are you making an action film or a horror movie?". I omitted it from the script. He felt I didn't need it and looking back, he was right. Anyone with a mini-DV cam can make a horror movie nowadays. This is a great thing, and don't let anybody tell you any different. We are the new blood of the horror genre and we will make the movies we want to make! Can I get a "Hell yeah"?
DVDActive.com: What's next for Ryan Nicholson?
Nicholson:I have a couple of scripts on the go, and it's a matter of budget at this point. I plan on shooting very soon, and I'm hoping my next film will receive a review as entertaining from DVDActive as my last one. And you know Gabe, we'll be breaking out that Casio keyboard again for a score dedicated to you! Adios my friend.
DVDActive.com: Ha ha, just tell me if you need a guitar solo, I’ll knock one out for you. Thanks for being such a good sport, and I’m honestly looking forward to receiving your next DVD.
Nicholson:Only if it's one of those keyboard guitars from the ‘80s and while wearing a piano tie! Damn I love that decade!
DVDActive.com: I’ll get my white suit coat outta storage for you. Thanks again.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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