Christopher Garetano is the mastermind behind "Horror Business," a fascinating documentary from a few years back that followed a handful of zero budget horror filmmakers on their journeys to make their films. What he captured was something special, and he's out to do it again with "Son of Horror Business," which is currently in production. Here's what he had to say about both films.
It needs to start and end with a love for cinema and not to be confused with a desire to be noticed or get rich.
What was your initial motivation to start making "Horror Business"?
I graduated from a four-year film school (School of Visual Arts) in 2000 and I realized shortly after graduation that to make a career out of filmmaking would require a total commitment with absolutely no bail if things didn’t work out. I had a decent job as a camera technician for Panavsison NY as well as a production assistant for a few films. At that same time I was also trying to raise funds for a horror film that I wrote titled Are You Going? I realized how truly difficult it was to independently fund a picture. My only creative outlet at that time (aside from writing drafts of the screenplay) was a magazine (also titled Are You Going?) that I created and published. I thought that publishing a unique and thorough text on horror films would be an honest way to make connections and to help bring attention to my film projects. I was up to my second or third issue when I realized there was an entire generation of movie makers who were virtually ignored.
It was the same generation of kids (who are now grown) who were raised on films like Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This generation is one of the most important to pay attention to because they are the beginning of something new and enormous in movie making. It’s the first time in film history that independent artists of this magnitude have so many opportunities to create, expose and sell their work. Many of these fledgling movie makers will eventually make something incredible happen with their work. Some of them won’t improve or survive and it’s this balance of negative and positive that I found equally as important. So it was the realization of how important this new generation of moviemakers is that led me to make both Horror Business and Son of Horror Business.
Did the money for all of the travel and post production come from your pocket?
Absolutely. Every penny that was spent. I left Panavision and the production assistant gigs to work a regular day job as an alarm security installer. The install job was paying much more than the film industry jobs and it paid in less time. I didn’t want a job in the film industry unless I was making the movies myself. So it’s the money from my paycheck that funded Horror Business entirely.
That’s not to say that I’m against someone else funding a project of mine. My latest documentary titled Montauk Unveiled is partially funded by a private investor/producer (John Brodie) who originally approached me with the base concept. My best advice to movie makers out there waiting for funding is to find a job that pays and invest your own money into your first feature project. Just make sure you’re prepared for it. Don’t blow all your cash until you know a little something about the language of movie making.
Do you think the filmmakers you profiled have a chance of making a career out of this?
Everyone has a chance. I believe everyone who desires to make movies has a shot but they truly have to want this. They have to want it bad enough put much time and concentration into this and get good at it. Independent movie making is not easy. Any movie making on any financial level is not easy. It needs to start and end with a love for cinema and not to be confused with a desire to be noticed or get rich. I feel if your foundation is built on a true love for the filmmaking process, the love for cinema, and you have an iron will you can certainly reach your goal.
Have you seen their finished products? What did you think?
Well some of them don’t have finished products yet. The ones that do vary in style and execution. I enjoyed Zombie Honeymoon and was happy to see it achieve the success that it achieved. I think that they all will learn something from each project and evolve with each lesson learned. If you’re an artist and you’ve already established your style by your first or second picture, consider yourself as good as dead.
Was there anything you shot or witnessed during the shoot that surprised you?
I think it was truly a realization that I was bearing witness to a great moment in film history.
What was your favorite moment from traveling around the country to shoot this?
It was the thrill of meeting the various people and entering their lives for a little while. It was like watching part of film history unfold in front of me. I don’t mean to sound pretentious by saying that but in years to come you will certainly find that many cinema artists of the future will come from this generation of movie makers. I don’t mean the men in my film specifically. The new golden age is almost here. I know this because current pop cinema has sunk very low in the mud, and it’s just about time for all the talented (unknown) artists out there to show those conformist fools what a good film really is.
Did you approach any celebrities at conventions that weren't interested in being on camera for the doc?
No not really. Believe it or not most of those convention interviews (in Horror Business) were arranged way before hand. There were also many that I had cut from the film either because there were technical problems with sound or they just didn’t really say much. I shot a few “on the fly” interviews which didn’t make it into the film.
What do you think the biggest mistake these low budget filmmakers make?
I think some of them might get too caught up in the act of directing. In other words they may feel like they have to play the part of the movie maker and so their interest shifts from the actual film to their image and how they feel they must act when they’re directing. That way of thinking has to do with our overly self-conscious society today. If most movie makers were to purely concentrate on their craft, then we would see much better pictures.
Another problem is for both low budget and big budget movie makers is that they’re trying to squeeze their film into a common market or safe demographic. This way of thinking will soon be the downfall of many movie makers. While certain production companies are scratching their heads over why their useless remakes or “tribute films” aren’t successful, there will be many original artists coming from out of the independent woodwork. There’s so much you can do with very little money. It’s just about being creative and realizing that it can be done.
Can you tell us about "Son of Horror Business?"
I’ve been working on Son of Horror Business for over two and a half years now. I’m still shooting it and I probably won’t be finished with it for at least another year. The film opens cinematically with the true story about a talented special effects make-up artist (Jay Wells) who died of a heart attack at forty years old. He died struggling and broke, but he never gave up his craft.
Son of Horror Business will tell his tale in its opening scene. I really want this to make a definitive statement on the current generation of movie makers. The film will cover the careers of some up-and-comers as well as set visits and interviews with people like George Romero, Jack Hill, and the late Bob Clark. The film means so much to me that I’m going to take my sweet time with it until it’s as perfect as I can get it.
After that is over, do you consider yourself a documentary filmmaker or do you think you would want to make features yourself one day?
Well, I’m a moviemaker though and through. I love making documentaries but I have several projects in development that are not documentaries. I also just recently completed a short adaptation of a 1980‘s horror comic titled Cottonmouth. I’m also developing a motion picture titled South Texas Blues which is a fantasy biopic that’s based on the making of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think a movie maker should be as diverse as possible. I’ve been a horror movie junkie from the age of six but I wouldn’t rule out a western or a film about the neuron function of alligators if I had an interest in making it. Also if you are an aspiring horror movie maker and you expand your taste in art and life, your horror film will certainly benefit from this openness.
So as a horror fan, what are your all time favorite films?
My all time favorite films are so numerous but I’ll name a few… Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, Alejandro Jodorowski’s El Topo, John Boorman’s Deliverance, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, as well as Walt Disney’s Fantasia and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Recently Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, and Apocalypto were all fantastic films. My favorite horror films are John Carpenter’s The Thing, Robert Wise’s The Haunting, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, George Romero’s Day of the Dead, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. By the way, there’s absolutely no reason why modern day filmmakers can’t all strive and achieve the same greatness that those films above will always contain.
The last question is sort of overdone so, what are some of your LEAST favorite horror films?
I don’t like comedies that are passed off as horror films. There are way too many of those today. Even when John Landis first screened An American Werewolf in London he promoted it as a comedy. That movie was actually scary as hell at times and Landis still promoted it as a comedy. Where the hell do some of these cats get off promoting their goofy comedies as horror films? Wake up people! If you’re laughing your asses off throughout the movie, it’s not a horror film.
What's the best piece of advice you could offer to someone trying to make it in the horror biz?
Be patient and don’t rush into it. You don’t have to go to film school but you certainly need a film education. Shoot as much as you can. Get acquainted with seeing through the camera lens and how you can control (and paint with) light. Learn about editing and how flash frames and other overused editing crutches are garbage. Also when you’re casting, realize there are great resources for talented and undiscovered actors in most places. Don’t plaster your films with ex-movie monsters, bimbos, and male models. Don’t be afraid to be risky and take chances. Be original and don’t limit yourself. Find your own unique voice and the language of movie making.
There are way too many “tributes” and not enough original ideas. It’s a total copout when someone says that “everything’s been done before.” That’s bullshit because I know everything hasn’t been done and it simply just takes an artist to look at their own lives and experiences for inspiration. If someone’s life is completely made up of experiences watching crappy second rate slasher films, than they shouldn’t be making movies. They should go and live life first before they attempt to make films.
How can you expect someone who’s never felt true loss, love, fear, anger, hate, awe, and beauty to make a film that’s worthy of your time and money? It’s those same poor bastards who are making the deluge of remakes and mindless comedies that are being passed off as horror films.
Also don’t play by the rules (in an artistic sense) because you will never obtain anything rewarding or substantial. Don’t join the current gang of conformists because that entire bunch will be completely forgotten one day. As soon as the creative new blood hits the scene, those guys are toast.
Don’t wait around for people to fund your film. You will most likely waste many years and come up short in the end. Make a movie and get started. Just think about what’s available to you (locations, props, crew, equipment) and really make sure that the film you’re about to make is what you’re truly interested in.