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The Horror of Digital
An interview with Stefan Avalos, Director of "The Ghosts of Edendale"

By Chris Parkhurst

Seven years ago I had a truly defining moment as a filmmaker that I'll always remember. It was the kind of moment that one looks back on very fondly as the moment when Everything Changed.

For me it was upon viewing the film, 'The Last Broadcast'. I'd read a bit of press about it in film magazines and the film community seemed to be abuzz about these fellows from Pennsylvania who had made a film for $900. Shot almost entirely on digital video. By an unpaid cast and crew.

And it was good.

And it was the first of its kind. The first movie edited on a desktop and then shown theatrically. The first film to have its premiere broadcast digitally via satellite. In fact, it premiered in five cities at one time. The first film to be projected digitally at Cannes.

In other words, it was the stuff that do-it-yourself indie filmmakers like myself had wet dreams about and in fact had been waiting years for. For four years we'd been hearing about the next film revolution whereby anyone with a video camera was going to be able to shoot and then edit an entire film on their computer. And up until that point, no one had really done it. At least, not done it and been successful in getting it to the big screen.

This was It. The Revolution that all of us super pale, perpetually frustrated and unsatisfied skinny white boys from Buffalo had been waiting for. Finally, someone had come along and decided to lead us into the heart of Hollywood itself, armed with our digital videocameras, laptops and tattered script pages, ready to take down any Spielberg or Studio lackey that stood in our way.

So, yes, it's moments like these, when we're watching our digital dreams unfold before our eyes on the silvery screen that we don't forget.

And so, when I had the opportunity to write on this month's theme (fear), I immediately thought of a filmmaker who had had a large impact and influence on me as a filmmaker.

I talked via telephone from Los Angeles with Stefan Avalos, co-writer, co-director, co-editor and co-star of 'The Last Broadcast' and more recently, writer/director/editor of another horror film, 'The Ghosts of Edendale'. We discussed horror films and the state of digital cinema.

Stefan Avalos, Filmmaker of 'The Last Broadcast' and 'The Ghosts of Edendale'

Chris: First, I feel that I need to inform you of the importance that you and Lance (the other writer/director/editor/star) played in my life as a filmmaker. When I saw 'The Last Broadcast' I was blown away. It changed my fucking life, man. I'd been waiting for something like you guys to come along and move me. So I want to thank you, because I don't think I've ever had the chance to. And as much as that may sound effusive and a little ridiculous, I don't think that I could have this interview without acknowledging it. So there. It's out there. I've basically worshipped and admired you from afar. Now we can get on with being professional. Let's start the interview.

Stefan: Wow. Well, thank you.

Chris: What's the first filmmaking experience that you can remember?

Stefan: I was probably twelve or thirteen armed with a VHS video camcorder and I was making short films with family and friends. It was all shot in sequence, as it had to be, you know in-camera editing.

Chris: Yeah, I remember doing that in college as early video assignments. So, were you always into video? Did you somehow sense that you'd always being shooting video?

Stefan: No, not at all. Actually, up until 'Broadcast' I was a total film snob. My first feature, 'The Game' was shot on film. I just never thought that video could look decent. You know, it always would have that home video quality to it -

Chris: Or porn.

Stefan: Uh, yeah, right. But one day I started playing with things like fields of dominance and frame rate and I started to think that a video image could be made to actually look not so bad. Soon after that, Lance and I came up with the concept for 'Broadcast'.

Chris: You've made another digital horror film, and one that was distributed by Warner Bros, 'The Ghosts of Edendale'.

Stefan: Yeah, you know, as much as one likes to believe in this whole indie spirit thing, there's just something to said about popping your dvd in and the first thing that comes up is the Warner Bros. Shield.

Chris: I would imagine that would be incredibly satisfying. Now, is that something that you'd like to continue doing? Do you consider yourself a horror filmmaker?

Stefan: No, no. What I want to do is NOT get stuck in any particular genre. I'm probably making my life miserable, by not continuing to do this, because I've had some success and could parlay this into a studio gig, but I just don't want to get pigeon-holed. My favorite directors aren't traditionally genre-specific. Someone like Robert Wise, who just passed away, is amazing. That guy did a number of different types of films. What a career. What a range. In fact, I'm consciously not doing a horror film with this next project.

Chris: 'Diamond Road'.

Stefan: Right. It's more of an action/adventure film, as was 'The Game'.

Chris: Can I rent something like 'The Game' on Netflix?

Stefan: Hmm, I don't know. It's possible. It's a very hard film to find, unfortunately. I'm not too happy about the distribution of it. In fact, if anything, with that deal, I learned how crooked distribution could be. I've never made a penny from it.

Chris: Did that perhaps lead you down the do-it-yourself digital path as well?

Stefan: Oh, absolutely. In fact, there were studios that wanted to buy 'Broadcast' and then transfer it to film before a theatrical release, but we said no. Which might seem crazy to some people, but we really wanted to maintain the integrity of the project. We'd done the thing on digital video and wanted it to remain that way. Plus we'd struck up some deals with digital projection companies and were distributing and projecting it in ways that had never been done. We thought long and hard about it and just realized that we were on the cusp of something highly unique and wanted to stick to our guns because of it. Plus, we were starting to get noticed because of it.

Chris: Now, I'm not looking to pigeon-hole you here in any way, but my article is supposed to somehow be related to fear… so, are there any moments that you have attached to any horror films that you can think of? For me, it was being traumatized when I was eight years old, when my cousins were watching 'The Exorcist' downstairs at our grandparents' house. We weren't allowed to watch the adult movie because we might get too scared so we instead were sequestered in my grandparents' room watching 'BJ and the Bear'. It took us a grand total of five minutes before we'd decided to see what our big cousins were watching and I will forever be scarred by the image of Linda Blair's head doing a 360.

Stefan: Hah, definitely, 'The Exorcist' was a big one. You know, for years there was this movie that I'd seen when I was a kid with Boris Karloff but I'd never known the name of it. Recently, some friends out here (in L.A.), notified me that it was 'Die, Monster, Die'. There was this one scene where Karloff had this milky sort of stuff just dripping from his hands… very creepy memories. 'The Changeling' also scared me. The scene with the kid under water.

Chris: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's something about kids in horror movies. Like the old 'Salem's Lot'. Do you remember that?

Stefan: Yeah, yeah, right, with the kid outside the window. Yeah, 'Salem's Lot' was definitely another one. 'The Exorcist', 'The Changeling' and 'Salem's Lot' all big movies when I was younger.

 

 

No Fear, No Rush
by Kent Lewis

 

Enjoyment of Fear/Fear of Enjoyment
by Joel Gunz

 

The Horror of Digital
by Chris Parkhurst

  The New Puritanism
by David Volk
 

Fearless
by Franny French

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