An Interview with Jakob Bilinski – By Matthew Saliba

Jakob Bilinski is no stranger to the pages of Rogue Cinema. Having had his films, "Shade of Grey," "Foxxy Madonna vs. The Black Death," "Mime" and "Obsolescence" reviewed in past issues, it was only a matter of time before we tracked the man down to answer some questions about his work and in particular, his latest feature which is currently in production, the neo-Giallo, "Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh."

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MS: For those of us who don’t know, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking.

JB: Well, I’m a native of Southern Indiana and like a lot of indie filmmakers, I caught the moviemaking bug early on in high school, making shorts with friends. I grew up on movies, they’ve sort of always been my addiction. I went to college as a Fine Arts major, but turned away from it early on for my love affair with cinema. Never really looked back. I started tackling things professionally several years later, and since have written/directed/edited/produced over 20 music videos and shorts, including my latest, OBSOLESCENCE. My first feature, SHADE OF GREY, was released everywhere DVDs are sold online in 2010. THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH is my second feature.

MS: "Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh" is a wonderful title! I take it you’re a big fan of Gialli then?

JB: Thank you! Oh yes. Kind of obsessed with the Giallo. It’s very much one of my go-to, guilty pleasure subgenres. Actually I’m not even sure if I should lump it as a “guilty” pleasure… I happen to hold the artistry on display in those films in a very high regard. I had a feeling TTOBF would be a title that people would either think is ridiculously stupid, or insanely awesome. I personally fall into the latter category. I always loved how those titles were elaborately descriptive phrases or questions. My goal was to make a modern, Midwesternized take on the Giallo and so I wanted a title that fit into that niche. When I came up with it, I sort of just thought, “Yup… That’s what it’s called.” It was a pretty easy decision.

MS: What is it about Italian genre films that seems to attract young indie filmmakers into either paying direct homage to them or appropriating elements from these films into their own work?

JB: I’m not sure exactly. For me, I just think they’re a ton of fun and from a visual standpoint, quite beautiful. There’s something intriguing about the over-the-top, twisty narrative structure, and the excessively trashy elements that were crammed into their running time. If you love exploitation cinema, you get it. If you’re easily offended, you just think it’s trash. Which is a shame, because there was a lot of fantastically inventive and artistic creativity on display in those films. Admittedly, the focus was often on style over substance, which might be a reason as to why indie filmmakers latch onto them so much. As filmmakers, we’re visually driven. And Italian films back in/around the 70s were more-or-less consistently trippy, visually lush, sensory overloads. There are a lot of opportunities for “director-driven” sequences, and that’s definitely appealing. My goal was to work in a story and characters into TTOBF that were dynamic and engaging to match the stylistic elements of the film. Honestly the film to me is equal parts Giallo and Revenge-Thriller. There’s a lot of key dramatic moments that are simply about character, and I was blessed to have a stellar cast that shines through in some of the film’s more dramatic moments.

MS: Tell us about some of your past work and how it led up to where you are today as a filmmaker.

JB: I set out to make my first feature, SHADE OF GREY back in 2006. It was this ambitious little art-house film about several characters connected through their repeated presence in a hotel room. We shot the entire thing in a single location in one weekend. I learned a LOT on that set, both in terms of what I wanted to try next, and what I never wanted to do again. It had a decent festival run before being released in 2010 (long post production issues). In between there I made a 70s grindhouse action short called FOXXY MADONNA VS THE BLACK DEATH which still seems to somehow be the most recognized thing I’ve done. I took a bit of a hiatus and directed a slew of music videos for local artists here in Indiana, several of which were horror themed. All of this was sort of designed to give me room to experiment and hone my skills. In 2009 I shot my latest short, OBSOLESCENCE, which is still currently on its festival run. I somehow garnered this reputation as a horror filmmaker even though I’d never MADE a horror film. THREE TEARS is me tossing my hat into that ring officially. And it’s a bit overdue I think, since it’s easily my favorite genre.

MS: How did "Three Tears…" come about?

JB: I was talking with my lead actor and friend, Bill Gobin, two years ago about what I wanted my next film to be and he asked if the one I was considering had a role for him in it. It didn’t. So he asked if I had an idea for a script that perhaps I could see him in. So I threw out the idea that I’d love to do a modern Giallo. I sat down and wrote out the script for the film (between late 2009-early 2010), and we started trying to put the film together. We didn’t have a lot of luck getting it off the ground last year, so I shelved it for a bit. Then earlier this year we re-started the discussion and ended up getting sudden access to some interesting locations and resources, which fit well with the film. We gave ourselves a window of opportunity to try and assemble the film for Fall 2011, and after just a couple weeks, things started coming together insanely quickly… in an almost weird way. Before I knew it we were on set and shooting. It was a very surreal feeling. Of course there were lots of stumbling blocks along the way, but you have that with any shoot. All of the cast and crew I showed the script to while we were in early talks got really excited about it. I’ve never had a project that people were so enthusiastic to be a part of (not to this degree, anyway). That’s pretty gratifying for a filmmaker.

MS: How does "Three Tears…" differ from classic gialli like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE and so on?

JB: Gotta say, I love that you mentioned WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? – that’s one of my favorites. It definitely differs from the storylines in those films, but retains a lot of the key Giallo elements. That genre was always about a character (usually American) going to a foreign land (usually Europe) and getting caught up in a web of murder and intrigue. And there was always a black-clad or masked killer slashing people up with a knife. THREE TEARS has all of that and more, with the black-clad killer being just one element of the danger in the story. And here we have a man returning to the small Midwestern town he’s abandoned instead of another country. But it’s still got the whole stranger-in-a-strange-land thing going on. I sort of wanted to equate small town Middle-America with the European setting… in a completely ass-backwards way. There’s a very melodramatic, twisty narrative running through this thing too, which I always found endearing (and a little humorous) about Gialli. It’s like hyperviolent, overtly sexualized soap opera. I aimed to trim down the cheese factor while retaining the flavor of what those films capitalized on. I have a handful of films that were inspirational to me when writing THREE TEARS, most of which were Gialli (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was actually one of them). THE WICKER MAN was a huge influence as well (the original… not the shitty Nic Cage “BEEEES!!!” remake).

MS: Tell us about the cast of the film. What was it like working with them and how did they come to be a part of the production?

JB: I should start off by saying I have the best cast in the world. Everyone says that, but I really do. Bill was the only person attached from the get-go, I wrote the lead character, Dominic, for him. Next I reached out to two actors out in L.A. I’ve worked with multiple times already – Scott Ganyo (OBSOLESCENCE, “1000 WAYS TO DIE”) and Rosalind Rubin (CLEANER, 12 ROUNDS). They read the script, loved it, and I immediately cast them. I trust these two implicitly and wouldn’t hesitate to cast them in anything (and their performances here only reinforce that notion – hint, hint to any casting directors out there!). From there I started seeking actors out here in/around Indiana. I was pretty lucky to get Jim Dougherty (SCALENE), Kayla Crance (EAST OF NOWHERE), and Angela Steele (BEVERLY LANE), as well as Sidney Shripka, Jim O’ Rear (too many credits to name-drop here!), Grant Niezgodski, Kevin Roach, Alex Hahn, Sonny Burnette, Eric T. Schroeder, Mark A. Nash, Rusty James, Aric Dylan, Stacy Higdon, Chelsea Casanova, Julie Pyle… the list goes on. I could sit here and elaborate on each actor but this interview would be way longer than it already is. I have nothing but praises to sing about all of them. I feel like I’m pretty good as an editor, and have had to cut actors in the past in such a way as to make them appear better than they really are. On this film everyone gave me performances that are so rich I know I don’t have to work very hard to make them look good. It’s a huge gift that I’m insanely thankful for.

MS: Did you give your actors a primer on the Giallo before shooting? For that matter, did you also screen any of your favorites for your Director of Photography, Cameraman and so on?

JB: I didn’t show any films to any of the cast and crew, but did have discussions about the genre I was trying to pay homage to so that we were all on the same page. In early discussions a lot of the team heard the word Giallo and was like, “…Huh?” I think they caught on, but a lot of them probably had to just run with it and trust me. Those who did know what I was referring to, I dropped the name of a few key films I was citing as examples. But the actors, I didn’t really say “Go out and watch this!” since I wanted to do a different, modern take on everything. I didn’t want them to model their acting on the performances back then (which were often stilted since they were most all dubbed into different languages, including English). I wanted powerful performances, so all I cared about was that they understood the character, and could sink into their skin. They did so… in spades. I shot the film along with my partner-in-cinematic-crime David Bonnell, and we had a few talks about films to reference visually. I also referenced the unconventional use of color in Gialli to my lighting team. The colors in this film are pretty insane. I love it. A few times I’d hear comments on set about how something didn’t look real. I remember a few times jokingly saying something to the extent of, “It’s Italian, just go with it.”

MS: I understand filming is still underway on "Three Tears…" how have things been going? Any horror stories to share?

JB: Yes. At the point in time of this interview we still have several pick up days of shooting ahead, but the bulk of the film is shot. Things have been going very well. Stressful, but well. The core of the shoot was an 11 day stretch, and the days were very, very long. One day ended up being a 22 hour shoot. Some people got rest as they were only around for part of it… but some didn’t. The shoot was mostly an endurance marathon. We had several locations that fell through and we had to scramble to get new ones the day before we shot. We had some actors that ended up having to be recast on the fly due to last minute scheduling issues. We had a few key crew members that had to be replaced days before we started shooting due to personal issues/emergencies they were having. All of this left a lot of the team in overdrive as we went into, and throughout the shoot. But I was fortunate enough to have the team I did, in that no matter how insane things got there were little to no complaints. Everyone had their eye on the prize and believed in the project to the point they supported it unconditionally. It made my job a helluva lot easier. Making a film is always a challenge, and this one was considerably taxing at times. My wife Mackenzie (who deserves an award herself for putting up with me during this), and our three cats kept me sane off the set. On set I had a bevy of dedicated crew members (aside from my awesome cast) that helped keep me from going off the deep end: special props go out to Bill Gobin, David Bonnell, Sharon Caudel, Larissa Ross, Sidney Shripka, Joe Atkinson, P.J. Starks, Marx Pyle, and Jim Dougherty for going above and beyond. There are several others who did a lot to help and I’m not discounting them by any means at all, but I leaned on this core group pretty heavily. And I’m indebted to them for all they did.

MS: What was "Three Tears…" shot on?

JB: We shot on HD, utilizing a mixture of different cameras, depending on the scene. Everything from P2 format to DSLRs.

MS: What are your plans for the film? Are you going the film festival route? Heading straight to DVD?

JB: I’m going to start out with the festival route and promotional screenings in 2012. I’d like to do a roadshow tour of the film, hit up horror festivals and conventions with as much of the cast and crew in tow as possible. From there we’ll be pursuing distribution options available. I’m not opposed at all to the self/hybrid distribution/straight to DVD/Blu route, but want to see what options are available based on how the film does in its initial run out in the world. Ultimately I’m just concerned with what’s best for the film, both financially and in terms of exposure. I really want this puppy to be seen, and hopefully appreciated by audiences.

MS: If anyone’s interested in learning more about the film, where can they go?

JB: You can visit www.cinephreakpictures.com and click on the THREE TEARS page, or “Like” us on Facebook for updates at www.facebook.com/threetearsfilm.

MS: Thanks so much for your time!

JB: Thanks and talk to you soon!