Interview: Brenda Hineman talks microcinema with horror writer/director Steve Sessions.
By Brenda Hineman | 13-Apr-2010
Brenda Hineman conducts a guest interview with microcinema horror Writer/Director, Steve Sessions for filmmaking.net. Sessions is an independent filmmaker from Biloxi, Mississippi. His films include: Contagio, Torment, Cremains, and Dead Clowns, among others.
In this interview, Steve addresses the realities of budgets, technology, and pure love of making movies.
filmmaking.net: The continued proliferation of file sharing has made it commonplace to be able to share digitally-available media. We know this is something big production houses are fighting, but how do you think it is affecting the micro-cinema community?
Sessions: When talking about microcinema it's important to realize it's not just the budgets that are micro or non-existent, but the financial return. Therefore you'd think posting a movie to the web would be all the more devastating. You'd have to ask a distributor like Brain Damage Films how much this affects them. But to the filmmakers and enthusiasts who've been trading movies amongst themselves since back in the days of VHS, file sharing was kinda the point.
The microcinema scene had been about making stuff outside the system and getting it seen by aficionados of that scene. Making money back usually wasn't the motivation. I could get a lot of flak for this, but we're really talking about fan films, only it's original source material. I think that puts them in perspective a little. Oh, and by the way, I hate fan films because I figure, why not just do your own thing? But there are a lot of similarities in motivations. It's about the love of it, and getting it to others who are into it, not trying to market it to the masses and rake in huge profits.
filmmaking.net: You've been able to get some pretty wide distribution for your films. How do low-budget producers achieve this? And what are the realities of getting a distribution deal?
Sessions: I can only speak from my own experience, which has been good from the point of getting movies out there on DVD into stores and rental outlets, but not in terms of profiting. I learned this pretty quickly, but kept making the movies anyhow.
We're actually talking about a scene that is disappearing quickly. The number of actual DVD distribution outlets for microbudget material has shrunk considerably. Other opportunities are springing up online, of course, but just as un-lucrative. At the beginning of this movement, there was the chance for making money back when you could sell a few rental videotapes at a ridiculous price to mom and pop stores. I got into the scene at the very tail end of it. The few lucky ones who made their mark were still at it, but their financial successes were behind them. I was excited my first flick ten years ago was going to be on DVD. I didn't realize then that low priced DVDs signalled the end.
But back to the deal. Figure out what you want out of it first off. If it's money, you might do better selling your own copies out of your trunk at conventions. If you want it readily available, go with someone who consistently gets product on the shelves.
My biggest concern has always been getting the movies out there for those who want to see them, and for the actors who were in them. And crucial to getting them to the right audience is honest packaging. You have to pick your battles, and proper representation was one of my first. A distributor wants to sell your flick so the box art can be deceptive. This helps the distributor but not the filmmaker when the consumer buys it and expects a multimillion dollar film and gets a "backyard epic". They're paying the same price, even. One of the movies I did, which was out of my hands in this area, was well liked when it was an underground flick and hated when it got widespread release in a too-slick package.
filmmaking.net: In addition to writing and directing your own films, you also score them. What is your stance in importance of the film score? And is it something you start hearing in your head when you are shooting?
Sessions: You can't minimize how important a score is. It's another character who gives the whole movie its tone. I love doing them despite limited ability and equipment. I don't really hear it prior to making the movie, or if I do, it turns out to be all wrong anyhow. I've done stuff in advance for a movie, and then tracked it in the way you would royalty-free library, but the finished movie really should tell you how the score should be. I like directors who do their own stuff - John Carpenter, or even Alejandro Amenábar, who did "The Others" because you get a certain all-encompassing mood that really fits. But there have been so many great collaborations with director and composer as well, where the music is so much a part of the director's vision (Hitchcock/Herrmann). And movies like "The Exorcist", "The Shinning", and recently "Shutter Island" have achieved great atmosphere by just tracking in avant guarde Pendercki orchestral pieces.
I used to be a fan of only orchestral music for film scoring because of its
timelessness. I like '80s horror scores, but they sound so dated. Yet as I've gotten older, I realize everything is dated simply by being made at a certain time, and there's nothing wrong with being contemporary. I dislike, however, how scores today - and I'm speaking mostly about horror music - have become like the "ching" sound you hear when someone even looks at a knife; it's all slamming percussion. Horror movies need more subtlety and atmosphere.
filmmaking.net: There are a lot of film editing software choices out there aimed right at the independent filmmaker. What is your software of choice and why?
Sessions: Okay, this is embarrassing. I'm still using Media Studio Pro, which Ulead discontinued a couple of years ago. I have their last iteration. Thankfully I've still got XP because I don't think it was even Vista compatible. I use this because I started with it doing wedding videos over a decade ago. It can do HD but the next slight change and I'm screwed. I'm on a PC, of course, otherwise I'd probably using Final Cut Pro. But it doesn't really matter what one uses; no one can tell when they see the final movie, right? You don't need the bells and whistles, just the ability to virtually cut up and arrange your virtual strips film.
filmmaking.net: If you weren't limited by budget, what is the one thing you would love to do with a film?
Sessions: Have better equipment and the time to make the movie, and then pay people to work on it. I'd let actors rehearse, too, and not shoot handheld because there's no time to use a tripod let alone set up a dolly or crane shot. But the actual movies I would make would be the same, just less compromised. I don't want to do anything "big"; I just want to do the best as I can. I'm lucky that I love suspenseful horror movies, and they don't need big budgets. Doing underground horror isn't slumming, it's the gutter I want to be in. Unfortunately I've got "no budgets", not low budgets.
filmmaking.net: What is the last you movie you saw that made you think, "Man, I should've made that movie!"
Sessions: Probably "Splinter". Like "The Descent", it's an unpretentious, yet serious horror movie, low budget, with atmosphere and suspense.
Brenda Hineman is a horror film aficionado and writes about Halloween Costumes at StarCostumes.com.