The Horror of Digital
An interview with Stefan Avalos, Director of "The Ghosts
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
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
Stefan: Wow. Well, thank you.
Chris: What's the first filmmaking experience that you
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
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
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