I recently talked with relative newcomer Bob Freville about his latest release entitled Hemo, a unique take on the domestic drama genre featuring a pair of vampires about to hit rock bottom. I discovered that Bob is not only very nice but is quite sincere and thoughtful about filmmaking. If you are tired of the latest teeny-bopper vampire craze featuring vapid bloodsuckers found in such fare as the Twilight series and television’s True Blood, Freville’s vampires might just be the breath of fresh air you needed.
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CC: Tell us a bit about your background. What got you interested in making movies?
BF: I have a very wide-ranging blue collar background in general. I have worked as a librarian’s assistant, a telemarketer and a roadie for a NYC alternative rock band. I dropped out of high school at 16 to write. I got my diploma through Keystone National, a homeschooler, so I could start writing for the local newspapers. As far back as I can remember, art was my thing–movies, writing, painting, doodling, playing pretend, dressing up, lighting G.I. Joes on fire and creating comic books on napkins. So I went to work as a teenager, doing freelance journalism, saw it was all bullshit and was lucky enough to find a website (Get Underground, which later merged with Kotori Magazine) that allowed me an uncensored outlet for what I really wanted to write. And that led to me making the contacts that I needed to start making movies. But it was always really about films.
I guess I knew I wanted to make movies when I first saw stuff like The ‘Burbs and The Explorers, Lord of the Flies, Texas Chainsaw 1 and 2 and all these other movies that an adolescent should probably not be seeing. It was never, "I want to be a fireman or an astronaut or the President of the United States." It was always, "I’m gonna make a horror movie with Corey Feldman and Liane Curtis (Girlfriend from Hell)." And one day that goal will be fulfilled hopefully.
CC: What movies/directors have influenced you over the years?
BF: There’s too many to count, really. Anything or anyone who is good. Tobe Hooper, Jess Franco, Hal Hartley (who grew up where I’m living now in Long Island, so he’s kind of permeated the place), Kathryn Bigelow (for Near Dark AND The Hurt Locker), John Carpenter, Gregg Araki, David Cronenberg, The Cohens, Linklater, Lynch, Herzog, Miike, Fessenden, Tsukamoto, Adam Rifkin. The most influential, though, are the people who manage to make their films for peanuts and pubic hair, ya know? The people who can take five dollars and pull some MacGuyver shit. Adam Wingard, Chad Ferrin, Jon Moritsugu, Dominic Thackray, Richard Taylor, people like that.
If I had to name one person whose career trajectory influences me, it would be Stuart Gordon. To be able to build a cult franchise like the Re-Animator series and to go from making a film like Castle Freak to doing a Mamet with William H. Macy (Edmond) and then do something like Stuck where you’re the guru of gore but you’re doing a tasteful dramatic movie about a real-life event and you’re being permitted to do so without interference…That’s awesome.
CC: “Hemo” is a film about two vampires, but I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a horror film. How would you describe the movie to potential viewers?
BF: I would warn the Twilight and True Blood crowd up front that this is NOT the movie for them. Hemo is an ultra-low-budget domestic drama that uses the vampire mythos to tell a deeper story about addiction and emotional neglect and where the two can get you if you don’t take initiative to make the right moral tailspin. It’s a lo-fi horror movie with an HD art film quality as well. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it or you’ll feel nothing. And if you feel nothing then you’ve probably watched too many Saw sequels to be helped. So, by all means, ignore Hemo and just go see whatever pointless, horrendous skullfuck the studios are churning out this Halloween. I don’t mean to sound hateful because I’ll probably be right behind them in line. : ) So don’t be surprised if you go to sit down in your movie seat and find a copy of Hemo there, soaked in Mace and hoping to cause you some harm. Hemo is a blunt wake-up call to the scrote, that’s the way I see it. If you find it sexy or funny there’s probably something irreparably wrong with you.
CC: The basic premise of the movie is about two people–who just happen to be vampires–who are in a committed, monogamous relationship. But as stressors are added to the relationship, specifically the lack of a steady supply of blood, the relationship begins to deteriorate. As the couple continues to grow apart, they begin to realize that maybe they aren’t right for each other. We see this all the time in real-life relationships–couples are perfectly happy until life throws them a curve ball; subsequently, many relationships fail. I found your use of this idea very interesting and refreshing. How did you come up with the initial idea for the film’s plot?
BF: Thank you. This is my third film now, my first long feature, and one of only two that anyone besides my friends and family will ever see. But my films always evolve out of a combination of personal experience, observation and sudden lightbulb burning. With Hemo in particular Apollo and Dionysus really collided head on; I was still in the process of finding closure at the time, after a sordid break-up with a fiance and finally accepting that it was an intensely destructive relationship I had been in. But more than that specific relationship, Hemo was inspired by someone else’s destructive relationship.
I used to entertain these two scene kids, pale celery stalk characters, a girl and her bi-sexual anemic-looking boyfriend. And they’d come over to have a couple beers and listen to music, talk shit and smoke this or that. But they were always strung out on something, whether it was dope or prescription pills. They used to steal Fentonyl patches from one of their grandmothers, carve them up into little pieces and chew on them to get fucked up. So here are these two malnourished junkie emo children, lounging around on my couch, and whenever they’d hit a peak on whatever they were taking they would let loose with these outrageous public displays of affection. The girl would start sucking on this kid like his pores contained the elixir of immortality, of life.
One night Emo Girl was sucking on Emo Guy’s hip bone, which protruded from his girlie jeans like a compound fracture, and then they started sucking face until their lips bled. And it was somewhere between the hip bone and the busted lips that I just looked at them and said, "We should make a movie about vampires!" Needless to say the kids in question didn’t end up starring in the film (otherwise the flick would likely be about five minutes long), but they did inspire the story as far as the theme goes. The rest flowed out as the good ones usually do.
I knew that we couldn’t do any crazy special effects on the budget that I had–a number in the thousands that came out of my own pocket from working as a retail manager–so Hemo was the perfect choice to shoot. I knew that a story about this tragic couple and their problems wouldn’t require high-end production values. The idea was to follow the characters and the downward spiral they take.
CC: There were other vampiric stereotypes you turned upside down. For instance, the vampires in “Hemo” can eat regular food although blood is still their mainstay. Also, the vampires can walk around in sunlight. However, they aren’t superhuman and in fact, can even lose a physical fight with a potential victim. Why did you decide to give your vampires these mortal characteristics?
BF: Well, like I said, I didn’t want to do a vampire movie to do a vampire movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre, outside of Herzog’s Nosferatu or Coppola’s Dracula. It only seemed natural to kind of subvert everything about the archetype of the vampire. Some might think it was a budgetary reason, but to tell you the truth, we had fangs all picked out–and, originally, they would have come out only during feeding or as a defense mechanism–but I threw them away on Day Two of the shoot because I said, "Guys, you’re people. You’re not the Creature from the Black Lagoon." When Felicia and Calvin get pretty banged up in a fight, it’s because they are sick and vulnerable. They’re susceptible, like most human beings, addict or no, to the impression of a fist…or a crowbar.
I hate when storytellers assign a specific meaning to something because it makes it impossible for the prospective audience to dream and to interpret things in their own magical and imaginative ways. But I can say that blood is not their food, it is their drug. It is the fluid which feeds their cells. And this makes it much like another drug that exists in the real world. And that’s all I’ll say.
CC: I liked your use of odd angles throughout the film. It really gave it an expressionistic feel in places. How deliberate were those shots? Were you trying to go for a particular feel or were you just trying to mix things up?
I was always, from script to location to post-production, always seeking a very signature feel. Not signature in the sense of, "Oh, one day people will look at this and say, ‘It’s got the Bob Freville touch.’" It’s not like that, where I want my stamp on everything. It’s more a desire to get to the heart of the piece. My editor worked in the same way, struggling with the raw footage for months before getting beyond my tape index notes and into the story itself so that he was right there along with the characters, inside their brains and their universe.
Those shots weren’t always deliberate in the sense of, "Let’s go for a Dutch angle on this one and then cover it with an Extreme Close-Up." It was more deliberate in that I would go in with a broad shot list of what I wanted, walk through the scene with the actors, then shoot–in many cases–one or two long takes where I followed the action, the dialogue and the emotion as if I were inside of them. The way those new laptop computers have those mice that sense heat, I would have the camera in my hands and kind of get lost in the scene on a guttural level. When they would be at the beach, all junk sick and dying, I would be in that murky place with them, moving with the camera in wave patterns, like I was adrift in some abyss of withdrawal with them, equilibrium all off and what not.
When we shot the first feeding I was up on a platform kind of fucking the air and penetrating the space in front of their faces with the camera. It was a new approach and one that I expect to use in the future, but of course the project will dictate what it calls for.
CC: I thought the locations you used in the film were very good–lots of urban decay, which paralleled the decay of the relationship between the two main characters. How did you find these locations?
BF: That’s my world, man. [Laughs] That’s totally my backyard. The film was shot in Lindenhurst, West Babylon and Massapequa, three Long Island, New York towns that are fairly close to each other. Massapequa is probably the farthest one, still only a fifteen minute ride from the other two. I handpicked these desolate locations over the course of one week of driving around. Most of them were already written into the script, like the forest Felicia refers to as "Paradise." And I knew that would be a potent atmosphere because that forest houses a lot of energy. As a teenager my friends and I would bury ourselves in the nooks of that place late at night, load up on cough medicine and beer and have these righteous bonfires. It was a place populated by ghosts and hobos. Lots of mole people building huts and setting the earth on fire.
The bleakest locations, I find, are the ones outside their apartment and along the canal where Calvin drops to his knees to vomit and is haunted by memories of one of their victims. And this is ironic because both of those locations are part of the same long block that runs parallel to all of these residential houses and residential streets. You’d think it would be sunny and quaint, but it’s a weird mix of decay and overgrowth. Lindenhurst is an odd town. Rich people live on one block and Section Eight housing populates the next block. Very close and backward.
The location that was hardest to find was their living quarters. I spent two months gutting my loft, ripping up anything that hinted of a normal life or of any sort of normal furnishing or luxury, painted it up like it was some half-renovated old abandoned shit-hole and lined all the walls with exposed light bulbs and melting candles. I’ve been plagued by silverfish ever since.
CC: “Hemo” is only your second film outing and your first full-length film. What were some of the challenges you faced in getting this feature off the ground and completed?
BF: Hemo is technically my third film. But the world won’t ever see my second. My first film, Of Bitches & Hounds, is a short feature. It’s over 50 minutes, so it can’t be considered a short. But to answer your question, the biggest challenge was in coordinating everything myself on whatever was in my wallet. The money wasn’t even the issue so much as the demands of managing a shooting schedule, keeping track of the day players, having fallback plans in place, etc. We were a very small crew and many involved in the cast also doubled as crew members. So when it came to logistics and scheduling and hours and all that, I was the guy. It wasn’t like on a regular movie set where the Director directs and he’s got his continuity girl on standby with a script, his Storyboard Artist on standby with drawings, his Production Manager yelling for everybody to take lunch and yelling at the Director to keep a lid on the window of time they have before sundown. It was ME. Period.
There was an episode on the film where, for the second or third time in a row, a girl was supposed to show up to shoot her scene and she flaked. And it just so happened that she pulled this shit on the same night that another cast member wasn’t picking up his phone. I won’t get into specifics, but a big fight erupted between a key cast member and myself, in which said cast member quite fairly (in retrospect) chewed me out for not having an understudy lined up and for wasting said cast member’s time. This was understandable because my key actors were getting paid $100 a week before food and travel expenses. And they had to travel into the Island from New York City every shooting day and travel back to the City late that night. So it was draining, for all of us, and it’s a testament to the power of will that we all finished the film without any real error. I can look at the film now and see flaws, but none of those flaws reflect any laziness or lack of effort on my part or the part of my actors; rather they are technical issues that have yet to be resolved. We’re still tweaking the audio for DVD release.
CC: Talk about some things you learned as a new filmmaker while making “Hemo.”
BF: I learned to never cast a part, however desperate you are, if you haven’t met the person face-to-face. I learned that allowing a production assistant to cut you open in lieu of a special make-up FX budget is a stupid idea…At least if the person holding the camera doesn’t know how to zoom in for maximum effect. I learned that finessing a situation can sometimes solve the problem of being penniless (Charm goes a long way; just ask panhandlers). I also learned that people really love this fucking Twilight shit and resent the idea of someone trying to do something different with the vampire genre that doesn’t tie in with the sexy moody emo soap opera that is that particular saga. And, finally, I learned that if I could have a menage-a-trois with any two vampire vixens it would probably be Sookie Stackhouse…and Felicia (the characters, not the actors that play them).
CC: Any new projects on the horizon, or are you just focusing on marketing “Hemo” right now?
BF: I’ve always got a million projects in development. My production company is a year old, so we’re just getting our feet wet, but we have a lot lined up. My production partner Jake is working on a short film in Cleveland that he hopes to turn into a feature. I have several feature-length scripts that we will be shopping around in the months to come. I’m also self-distributing my first film Of Bitches & Hounds (stay tuned to www.myspace.com/bobfreville) and selling Hemo, like you said. But the big project that I’m focusing on right now is the next feature, a straight up horror movie about the age of social networking and psychotropic drugs, that is somewhere between Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.
The film is called No Image Available and will be shot, once again, in and around Long Island, New York. This time we’ve got some new horror talent lined up (Shawn C. Phillips of President’s Day and Sasquatch Assault, and Richard Taylor, director of The Misled Romance of Cannibal Girl & Incest Boy). My co-writer and I are polishing up what will be our shooting script and will be reaching out to some really great horror legends about coming on for lead roles.
We will be raising our budget via Kickstarter, so if anyone reads this, head over to Kickstarter and look us up. If our project isn’t listed yet, be sure to mention your interest to a moderator and see if they can give you the heads up once our project is posted. We’re aiming to have the project up on Kickstarter.com before the end of June.
CC: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
BF: Keep your eye on the prize and, also, be realistic about what that prize is. If you’re only looking to get into filmmaking because you want to be Michael Bay, drive hot cars, fuck celebutards and attend fancy after-parties then go home. Or not. Maybe you understand something I don’t. But I think it’s important to follow Bill Murray’s trajectory from What About Bob? and take baby steps. Who knows if people will even be watching movies twenty years from now? You might as well have fun making them while you can, instead of worrying about being a megastar or any of that bullshit.
My biggest piece of advice is to know your project better than anyone. You don’t ever want to be in a position with a star, experienced or not, who expects an answer that you are not prepared to provide them with. Other than that, just keep stretching your legs in case the cops show, have excuses for being on private property at the ready, always surround yourself with people who can prove they are students and never let a leading actor eat more than they normally would…Unless you have an aversion to good continuity.