Joe Sherlock, Northwest filmmaker, will have the Portland premiere of his latest film, Drifter, at The Clinton Street Theater this Saturday, August 23, at 4 pm. Tickets are $5 dollars (cash only) and he, as well as several cast members, will be present for a Q and A after the film. Additionally, you can pick up a DVD copy of Drifter, as well as some of his other films, at the screening.
Sherlock was able to spend some time talking with The Shadow Over Portland about the film, his inspirations and some tips on how to make your own low budget horror film.
The Shadow Over Portland: I’m talking with Ray Sherlock, Northwest filmmaker, whose latest film, Drifter, will have its Portland premiere on Saturday, August 23 at The Clinton Street Theater. How are you tonight?
Joe Sherlock: I’m pretty good.
TSOP: All right. Before we get talk about Drifter, can we get a bit of background from you about your filmmaking? It looks like you have a pretty extensive list of credits on IMDB.
JS: Most of the stuff isn’t on there. Maybe that’s not the right way to say it, but there’s a lot of stuff that never got on there. And I’ve done a lot of bits and pieces for things that, for one reason or another, never got listed.
I’ve had this filmmaking addiction for many years. I have a similar story to a lot of people. I watched a lot of sci fi and horror stuff on TV when I was a kid, I drew my own comics, and all sorts of geeky stuff. I use to make movies with my dad’s Super-8 camera when I was youngr. When I got out of high school, a friend of mine had a VHS camera and we started making skits, little movies and things like that.
All through college, I made shorts and things like that. In 1995, I decided to try and make something serious, and that was Dimension of Blood. That was the first thing I took seriously, not just goofing around in the backyard. From then on, it was it was making horror stuff, horror comedies, sci fi comedies.
TSOP: You’re in Corvalis. How hard is it to find a crew, actors and all the things needed to make a movie?
JS: It all happened very organically. I started just working with friends. And I co-owned a comic book and game store for 1989 to 1996. Through the store, I met people involved with Live Action Role Playing Games, comic book artists and various people. When I was doing the movies, as I was getting out of the shop, I had my friends, and I had a larger circle of customers. And that was pretty good. There were people into belly dancing, people into Live Action Role Playing, people into costuming, great people who wanting to be involved in something like that.
As time when on, I would get friends of friends. They would tell people, “Oh, I made a zombie movie this week,” and their friends would think that was cool and want to be involved. So, the circle widened and that continues to this day. Most of the people involved in the projects I do today are friends, friends of friends, or people who find out that someone was in a movie project and decide they want to do that.
I’ve also actually gotten several people involved from screenings. I shown several things at a theater in Salem and a lot of people attend, than come up to me and say they want to get involved. So, I get the contact information, we try things out later and see how it goes.
Now, the crew part, most of the stuff I do myself, so it’s not like I have to find a lot of technically adept people, as I usually write, direct, shoot and edit my movies. So if I can get someone able hold the boom poles, I’m pretty good as far as the crew goes.
TSOP: I did notice you have an extensive background in cinematography, directing, producing and writing. Is there any role you prefer when making a movie?
JS: It’s a cliché answer, but I like all of them at different times for different reasons. I like the writing when I’m writing, the directing is fun and the cinematography, in terms of lining up shots and being as visually creative as I can be is fun.
As for the editing… Well, they say you often make three movies. You write a movie, than when you direct it, it becomes a different movie. Than, when you edit it, it becomes, perhaps, another movie. And I think that has some truth to it.
And, I think at any given time during that process, there’s a magic that happens during any one of those phases. So, I guess I don’t really have a favorite.
TSOP: It just depends on the time?
JS: Yeah, it really does.
TSOP: Where did you learn how to make films?
JS: I just learned by doing. I’m self-taught, I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t take any classes. I’ve been told by several people that I make movies because no one told me I couldn’t, which is kind of true (chuckles).
As I mentioned, I drew my own comics and made my own ‘zines, so I was always into that do it yourself mode anyway. When I started doing the video movies, there were magazines like Draculina and Alternative Cinema that were talking about people in the country, and around the world, making these shot on video movies. There was the start of this community and, of course, once the Internet was being used more, that was the perfect place to connect with all these like-minded, back yard filmmakers. People would put up articles, you could go on bulletin boards, and I’d correspond with them. We’d trade movies, and that would give you ideas from watching them.
And on DVDs, one of the things I watch, if they’re well done, is the behind the scene features, because they will talk about how the filmmaker did things. So, I just pick that up as I go along.
TSOP: As far as directors and writers, who would you say is your greatest influence?
JS: For the longest time, I’ve said John Carpenter. I wouldn’t necessarily say if you watch my movies, you think, “Oh, that’s just like a John Carpenter movie.” But I really like the feel of a lot of his movies. He has a mood to them. And it’s a combination of the story, the cinematography and the music, and the way it’s all put together that add up to a vibe his films have. And a lot of the time, he would be writing, directing and scoring the film. He didn’t necessarily shoot it, but he was doing a lot of the pieces like that.
I also have to say, director Fred Olen Ray, and Jim Wynorski to a certain extent, that I admire because they make movies happen often out of sheer will. They made all these B movies, they made a lot of horror movies, as well as TV stuff and family fare; their work runs the gamut. But I think their love is horror, a lot of times B movie horror. And to see they work through the heartache you always experience trying to pull together a low budget production and get things done. They are both prolific and open to talking to fans. Fred, for a long time, ran a bulletin board I was on, and I got all kinds of great ideas and information from that.
TSOP: Is there any movie that inspired you to get into filmmaking?
JS: Well, I have a couple answers for that question. I grew up in New Jersey, until I was eleven. Then, my family moved across the country to Oregon. It was a little traumatic, it was a long distance and I was away from my friends.
There was a movie made by Don Dohler, called The Alien Factor, made in Baltimore. Are you familiar with that one?
TSOP: Oh, yeah.
JS: I love that movie. For all its faults, I love that movie. But part of the reason I loved it was because I’d moved out here to Oregon and it played on KPTV Channel 12. And here was this movie, that was obviously low budget, amateur, you might say, and all the houses, all the weather, looked like where I use to live. Baltimore isn’t too far from New Jersey. And all the actors had thick accents. Not like Jersey accents, but a thick accent compared to out here. It was nostalgic. Even when I watch it now, the architecture, the cars, reminds me of the first eleven years of my life.
On top of that, it had all these crazy monsters in it. That was very inspirational. In fact, I started writing my own story inspired by that, with the intention of filming it on Super-8, and similar things on video once I got to work with a VHS camera.
And it was inspirational because when I watched it, I thought, “Wow, I could do that.” I was thinking, these guys went out in the back yard of their houses and on these country roads somewhere near where I lived, got their friends together and made a movie. And I was like I could do this. They made a movie, and it’s on TV and I’m watching it. So that was very inspirational.
The other movie that is inspirational to me is Phantasm. That would be my favorite horror movie, and part of the reason I love Phantasm is it has so much character to it. It’s unlike a lot of traditional horror movies and has an oddball vibe that appeals to me.
TSOP: Sounds like you were a big fan of KPTV back when the station was showing horror movies.
JS: I was.
TSOP: Same here.
JS: And sci fi as well. I remember watching Dark Star and Silent Running. It seems like that ran that one all the time.
TSOP: Oh yeah.
JS: And The Green Slime. (We both chuckle)
TSOP: Let’s talk about Drifter. It sounds like a slasher flick, though the preview hints at it being a bit more than that. Can you tell us what the film is about?
JS: I don’t know if you want me to talk about the genesis of it or anything like that…
TSOP: Please do.
JS: I have a friend I went to high school with. He owned a house and a restaurant outside of Silverton. I’ve shot two other movies there, Underbelly and Blood Creek Woodsman. Well, he called me at the end of 2012. I knew he’d sold the house and moved, but he called me and said, “You know, I sold the old house, but the buyers aren’t moving in for several months. So if you want to come and shoot some kind of blood murder scene in there, you can have free run of the house, just clean it up when you’re done. It’s empty for the next several months.”
He just thought I would make up would just make up some random scene that he could work into a future project. But, of course, I figured I could shoot a whole movie. And knowing I had the full run of the house, as no one lived there and I wouldn’t have to work around anyone’s schedule, was appealing. And it was my friend’s wife that suggested the idea of someone hiding there, and killing people as they came to the house. So that was the genesis of it. It was an opportunity. Here’s this location, here’s the time frame. What can I do with it?
The initial thoughts were a slasher movie. Someone is hiding within the house and killing people that would come by, like a plumber, a painter, some kids that might break in to party. I mulled that in my head for a while, but I couldn’t figure out why. Who is this guy, why is he doing this? I had ideas, like maybe he was an escaped mental patient. I actually had an idea for a while that flying saucer crashed in some farmer’s field, an alien crawled out and its possessing some guy. Just some wacky stuff.
It was on a long drive to Washington (State) that I came up with the twist. It was, “Okay, here’s what it could be. Here’s why the guy is doing these things.” From there, I wrote it really fast and worked it all out.
So, it has its origins that that slasher/body count/kill, kill, kill, kill kill. But I hope a little more depth comes to it from the twist. You’re still strung along with the mystery of who is this guy and why is he doing these things, but there is a payoff and hopefully it’s an interesting twist.
The other thing I tried to do as the director, and this is akin to Phantasm, was to put some interesting, quirky characters into the film. Some people who have seen the film say it’s got a fair amount of humor in it. But it wasn’t so much that I tried to make it funny, but I think the humor comes naturally from some of these characters and the dialog between them.
Like the lead character and his wife. I really tried to write their scenes so you got the sense that this couple had been married for a long time. So they have their own language they speak to each other, they can be short with each other but it’s okay, because they’ve been married for a long time and it’s a tit for tat kind of thing. And, by putting some of that into the script, it gives the film a little more depth than the traditional here’s a character and they get killed routine.
TSOP: The film had its world premiere at Crypticon in Seattle. How did the audience respond?
JS: It was pretty good. We had a good showing, considering it was a midnight show. It was kind of cool to have a Friday night midnight screening, because it works as a midnight show. It is a B movie, it has all the elements in it. But, you never know. I was competing with one other screening and the big dance party, where all the drinking occurs. And however many room parties were happening. So you never quite know how the attendance will be for something that late. But I had about 45 people in there, so it was pretty good. And they were scared at the right parts, and laughed at the right parts, so it was all good.
TSOP: The film is showing at 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon here in Portland. Do you think that will change the dynamics of the crowd?
JS: That’s a good question. I don’t know. To be honest, I looked at what it would take to rent this place, and I decided to do late in the afternoon because I don’t know who’s going to show up. And we’re bookended by another movie and, later that night, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m hoping a bunch of people come out.
At least it’s a Saturday. I know it’s a little early, but we’ll see.
TSOP: I understand you will be there for the screening, as well as members of the cast and crew.
JS: Yes. Michael Hegg is going to be there. He plays Angus. Sabrina Larivee, Dale Wilson, Emily Howard, Bryn Kristi, Richard Johnson, who plays Don, the main character, Roxxy Mountains, and I believe Rob Merickel is going to be there, who plays the coroner.
TSOP: Sounds like it will be an interesting Q and A.
JS: Boy, I hope so. The plan is, there’s a trailer, then we’re going to watch the movie, then we’ll screen a ten minute making of feature, which is attached to the DVD, then open it up for question.
I’ll have copies of Drifter, as well as my other movies, available for anyone who wants to pick them up.
TSOP: I hope it goes well. I know I’ll be there.
TSOP: What’s your next movie?
JS: I mentioned Blood Creek Woodsman, which we showed at Crypticon last year. That went well, and there was a bunch of color correction and sound work that had to be done, some minor stuff. The goal is to try and wrap that up and, once that’s done, I’ll look at getting DVDs made and set up some local screenings for that.
The other thing I’m wrapping up is a movie called Odd Noggins. The trailer will show before Drifter at The Clinton Street Theater. And again, I’ll get some copies and start looking for local screenings.
TSOP: One final question. It sounds like you’ve learned filmmaking by doing, and some of the answers to my questions have talked about what to do when you make a low budget movie. Any other suggestions for filmmakers, or wanna be filmmakers thinking they can make a film?
JS: First of all, you can. Just do the best you can with what you have. I’ve been told that over the years, and it’s true. I shoot Dimension of Blood on a VHS camera, moved up to High-8, then Mini DV, now I’m shooting on HD.
But if all you have is your phone, make a movie on your phone. Just do it. It’s learn by doing, it really is. You might make something great, or you might make something crappy. But if you make something crappy, you’ll still learn something from the process.
The other thing is… Well, a lot of people will say, “Write what you know.” There is some truth to that, but in terms of a low budget movie, write to what you know you can do. Write stuff that happens in your house, or in your neighborhood. I had a friend who had a restaurant and how often is that? So I shot a bunch of stuff there. I had a circle of friends, related to my comic shop, who were all belly dancers, so in Monster in My Garage, there’s a whole sequence of these alien belly dancers.
There are resources available, you just have to think about them. Do I know anybody has a cool car, or a particular skill, or a cool costume or the nurse who has a nurse’s uniform. You know, there’s a lot of stuff, you just have to figure out the story to tell about it. Or, if you have a story in mind, see what’s around that you can adapt to that story.
Even if you don’t know people who have these locations or own this stuff, it’s amazing if you have the balls to ask people stuff. Often, they are very accommodating because, to the people who aren’t involved on making movies on any level, being involved in a film sounds really cool. As long as you treat everyone well, it is very cool. So, it could be you talk to the owner of a restaurant or bar, a warehouse, a farm or whatever the case may be and say, “Hey, I want to make this movie and wonder if I can use your place.” Maybe they want to be in it, and you have them in the background or make a small part for them, or whatever. Most of the time, people are quite excited at being involved in making a movie and sometimes you can get access to cool cars or locations. You never know until you ask and the worse thing they can say is no. Then you just move on to the next person, or do it a different way.
TSOP: How can people keep up with your future movies and such?
JS: The best place for that is skullfaceastronaut.com. That’s a hub for all the stuff I have going on.
TSOP: Thank you for your time. I don’t want to take up any more of your evening. And I look forward to meeting you in person at the Portland premiere of Drifter.
JS: Thanks a lot. See you in a couple of weeks.
Again, my thanks to Joe Sherlock for taking the time out of his evening for this interview. And, if you're a fan of local, independent horror films, head to The Clinton Street Theater this Saturday, August 23, at 4 pm for the Portland premiere of Drifter, the preview of Odd Noggins, the making of feature and the Q and A with writer/director Joe Sherlock and the cast of the film.