Jayson Densman director of EGG, talks about his career and his brilliant new movie 'Party Girl'
Q. Can you tell us something of your background. When did you decide you wanted to be a director and what was it that inspired you to be one.
A. I believe it all started in the womb. During delivery I complained of bad lighting, but craft services were totally awesome. When I was about 5, I used to entertain my family by pretending I was Tom Jones or Elvis. I always wanted to entertain people, even at the risk of personal safety or looking ridiculous. I discovered guitar and writing music at 12 and that carried on 'till I was about 30. When I was 22 I attended Stephen F. Austin State University (east Texas) and studied photography and film making. Not much of anything digital back then, so we shot everything in 8 and 16mm. It was a great way to learn the process. I learned how to shoot and edit with real film, quite a different process than today. I went back to school in 2002 (Tarrant Country College - Hurst, Texas) and brought myself into the digital age of computers and cameras. We shot a lot of stuff in those classes, including a music video of some old music I'd been a part of ( http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=4277710 - I'm the guy on guitar). After 3 1/2 years of that, I started X1 Productions. I shot anything that paid (mainly weddings) and a lot of stuff that didn't, but my faves are all the music videos. Directing had always been on the back burner for me. I had always enjoyed watching movies and occasionally one would come along and just blow me outta my seat. The first that I remember was Baron Blood by the great Mario Bava. That movie scared me shitless when I was a kid! I was strongly addicted to horror films, especially the old Hammer and American International films. Great films! Then the disaster films of the 70's like 'The Poseidon Adventure' and 'Earthquake' really rocked. Whatever the film, if it moved me in some way, I was always fascinated by how they did it. I was always picking it apart and analyzing the pieces. I wanted to know how and why it had so much power. I still do that today, so directing is a very natural thing for me and I understand the operations of all the departments, from the creation of story right down to distribution. So really, directing is just one of the things I like doing and it's a very natural, organic thing for me.
Q. How did Party Girl begin.
A. After 'EGG' had been turned down by a few really cool horror festivals, I wanted to make something that would be genre specific. There really is no proper classification for 'EGG' which is something I'm pleased with, but it sort of handicapped itself in the festival arenas. So for the next project, I wanted something that would fit easily into the festival circuit and I wanted to make something umm... bloodier. John Edward Lawson, a publisher (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and writer up in Maryland, had suggested 'Party Girl' a short story from Dustin LaValley's 'Lowlife Underdogs' collection. So he put me in touch with Dustin in New York and I received the original screenplay for 'Party Girl'. There were only a few small changes made on the script to what is now the movie. Dustin is an excellent person to collaborate with and he has a strong sense of storytelling.
Q. Can you explain your different experiences/approaches working on both Jeremy C. Shipp's 'EGG' and Dustin LaValley's 'Party Girl'.
A. I was very sick when we made 'EGG'. I remember shooting at the creepy feed mill wearing a cathater and drain bag (gross, I know), and everyone was worried about me. It was a very surreal time. Somehow, all that translated into 'EGG'. Pat Martin (Tapestry Filmscapes producer) had flown Jeremy in from California to see some of the film making process for 'EGG', which he enjoyed, and Dustin flew in for 'Party Girl' because I'd asked him if he wanted to be in the movie as a victim. So for me, both of these short films had a very rare and exotic feel while I was shooting. I was totally honored to have the writers present, especially since they live so far away. Everyone always seems to have a great time on these shoots. We become like an assembled, temporary family and new friendships always happen. No friction has ever happened on one of my sets that wasn't a part of the creative process. As far as my approach, both films were the same.
Q. How long did it take you to find the right actors for 'Party Girl'
A. Tom Young was the first one cast. He liked the script and offered a lot of insight. Tom is another creative soul who just happens to be an excellent actor. I had Marilyn Burns in mind for the lead and we actually negotiated for about 2 weeks, but unfortunately that fell through. I'd been a fan of Marilyn's since I first saw 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' back in '75 at a drive-in. She's a really great and totally underrated actress. So after that, Tom suggested Candace Porter. I had worked with Candace before on one of Pat's projects and thought she would be perfect for the part. So I contacted her and sent her the script. The same day she accepted the role. All the victims were cast along the way to the shoot date in Corsicana, Texas, where the main kill room was located. For a while it was a revolving door of guys that said would, but backed out for whatever reasons. What we ended up with was a perfectly casted victim menu! We were able to do the leg amputation gag because one of the actors (Dennis Harrison) had lost a leg in a car crash years ago. We also had Jackie Bibby 'The Texas Snakeman', who's been in a bunch of movies and episodic TV. Raw Dog Screaming Press publisher John Lawson was in from Maryland and LaValley was in from New York to die as well, plus a host of others who did just a remarkable job. Hats off to all the victims of 'Party Girl!'8)
Q. Can you explain some of the camera techniques you use in certain scenes. Do you enjoy the artistic side of things.
A. I have such strong visions of how the film should look and be executed that I just shoot it myself, with the help of a few folks on the set. Cinematography is certainly an artform, as well as lighting, blocking, sound, directing, writing, effects, make up, editing, etc. This particular project was shot all freehand. I think I used the tripod on one or two shots. This gave the film a very fluid, voyeuristic feel. Actually, one of the most potent shots in the film was Candace 'dancing' with the machete and Tom shot that sequence. Everyone seems to like the shotgun scene and the way it was shot. A lot of the power of that came through in the editing process. In the entire film, some things are sped-up or slowed down. I play with time quite a bit to get the right feel. Some of the camera work was experimental in a way, because I wanted a very surreal and liquidous feel for the entire film. I get exceedingly tired of watching hi-budget Hollywood shit that's the same thing over and over again. Very few truly creative films come out of the Hollywood system, and a lot of what you see in 'Party Girl' is a welcome relief to the stale, standardized and pasteurized film making process.
Q. How do you feel just before you start working on a movie and would you say you're a good directer to work with. 8)
A. That's a loaded question! The day of the shoot, I usually feel like I'm about to blast off! I feel totally in my element. Immersed. Typically, I have the shoot mapped-out, but I leave a lot of room for improvisation. This gives myself, the FX guys and the actors room to explore and create on the spot. This approach gives the film a very fresh feel. I listen to all input on the set, no matter how small the suggestion. I'm titled as director of the film, but really I'm just a funnel and filter for all the creative forces involved. I'm only one part of a much larger whole and I believe in the power of total equality; one thing in the creative process cannot exist or function without the other elements. A good director to work with? At the risk of sounding egocentric, yeah, I think so. No complaints except maybe that I'm fucking crazy. 8)
Q.Evil John Mays make up effects are awesome, very realistic. How did you feel filming all the gory stuff.
A. All the blood and guts and weaponry were a necessary component to the story. I wasn't out to make a simple Blood, Beer 'n' Boobs film. Plenty of those around already! The story's philosophy justified the macabre element(s). I was OK with all the gore, but the one's that kinda got to me were the castration and the vomiting. about 4 or 5 days after the main kill room shoot, I had a terrible nightmare about the castration scene. Fucking awful! The vomiting scene, well... Pat had to shoot that because Evil John's bile mixture looked and sounded just too fucking real and I had started to retch myself! I actually gagged! But I suppose that's positive testimony to Evil John's craft.
Q. What would you say was the most difficult scene in 'Party Girl' to film.
A. Hands down the machete through the back sequence. We tried a lot of angles and positions for that and it was exceedingly hard to make it work in editing. A back-up (safety) shot saved that gag, no doubt. The rape scene was difficult for me personally because I think it's a violently rude, dehumanizing act and it happens every day all over the world. It's sick, but it's also reality and very much a part of the story. Shooting that made me feel bad for the real victims in the world.
Q. 'Party Girl' is a victim fuelled by hatred and revenge, although what happens to her is terrible, do you think people will sympathise with her, considering we never really get to know much about her except when we see her kill. This comes across as quite a mechanical movie, do you think people will be drawn less to characters but more to issues of rape and the problem with sex offenders. And putting those issues aside, did you set out to make 'Party Girl' for the enjoyment of all those horror/slasher/psychological movie fans out there.
A. This whole project was designed in a very specific way for an audience who are desensitized to the point of redundancy from not only the shit Hollywood cranks out for the almighty dollar, but from the real world activities of real sick and disturbed people. Understanding that a typical viewing audience for this type material has seen everything under the sun, we wanted something that would reverse cater to the idea of revenge on a personal level. Character dialogue would almost certainly have helped create a connection of the audience to Candace's character in a sympathetic (or non-sympathetic) way. The narrative brought in a kind of documentary element, which even further alienates the viewer. The movie is designed to make people feel uncomfortable in a part of the mind that normally shuts out terrible and distasteful ideas. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles are real. They live in your neighborhood. But then again, thoughts of revenge are real too. I defy anyone to say they haven't had some really twisted thoughts, at some point or another, of getting even with someone who really fucked you over. This movie is that part of the human brain that wants serious justice. It is exceptionally internal.
Q. Are you currently working on another movie. Do you receive many scripts from hopeful screenwriters and what is it that you look for in a script.
A. Occasionally I get things thrown at me, but those around me know I'm only working on stuff that moves me in some way. There are a lot of dry, bland and meaningless stories in the world and I'm not interested in doing something that's not fresh and inventive. That's the artist side of me. The logical side of my mind tells me to do something for the money end of things so I can get bigger equipment and start making movies on a larger scale with investors. That's something I could certainly do, but the artist inside me has the bigger buggy whip at the moment. My next project is a series of videos, based on the poetry of the shy and elusive John Edward Lawson. After that, there will be a documentary on a subject I cannot discuss at this time.
Q. Who are your favourite directors and what advice would you give to up and coming directors.
A. Well, for me the best directors are not necessarily the ones who make the giant box office receipts, but the ones who are truer to the nature of creative storytelling. David Cronenburg is my all time fave. Other than that, its David Lynch, Robert Rodriguez, Bava, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Hooper, DePalma, Aronofsky... the list is kinda long, but really it's anyone who's said fuck it, in part or whole, to the standardized Hollywood system. They did the film their way and the film shines because of it. Advice to those who want to make films? That's an easy one: follow your heart and keep artistic compromise to a minimum.
Q. Who would be your dream actors to work with.
A. Ah geez, the list is very long and it really depends on the project and type of character. Terrance Stamp, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Williams, Martin Landau, Cary Elwes, JoBeth Williams, Christina Ricci, Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt are but a few. I also like to work with non-actors. They bring a certain realness and vitality to a project, though I have to communicate with them a bit differently.
Q. Thank you for the interview. Good luck with 'Party Girl'. I hope it does well at the film festivals.
A. Thank you so much Marilyn! I had a great time with this interview, indeed! If anyone would like to order Party Girl or EGG:
and come visit the movie's website at www.myspace.com/eggfilm :)