An Interview with Jason Christ – By Josh Samford

Jason Christ is one of the chief gentlemen over at Wicked Pixel cinema, along with Eric Stanze who was interviewed in our last issue. Jason is simply one of the nicest and coolest guys you’ll ever want to meet. From the start he has been a great person to work with in terms of screeners, getting this interview together, the one with Stanze, etc. Just a very laid back kind of guy, and what makes it better is that he’s a very talented director as well. Savage Harvest 2: October Blood was a tremendous sequel and his short films have shown a great deal of brilliance. It was great to delve into the world of Mr. Christ, and hope nothing but the best for this man in the future!

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 For those who aren’t familiar with your relations with Wicked Pixel cinema, could you describe how you became wrapped up in all of this?

I first came into contact with Eric Stanze when he had a public screening of one of his student films, THE SCARE GAME, at a local community college just outside my hometown of Hillsboro, Missouri. I remember being extremely impressed that somebody made a movie in my neck of the woods. I was very amped to check out the screening of this little flick, but unfortunately that wasn’t meant to be. There was an age-restriction on the screening and my underage ass got turned away! I grew up surrounded by movies ever since my parents opened a home video rental store back when I was in the fourth grade, so I guess it was only natural that I would pursue movie making as a career, but that idea didn’t really occur to me until I heard about Eric Stanze.

It was in my first year of college when I was making my first student film called DARK AURA (a few clips of this can be seen in SAVAGE HARVEST 2). I met Rebecca Kennebeck, who was an actor in SAVAGE HARVEST, in one of my television production classes. We started talking about movies and whatnot and soon became good friends. She would later (probably against her better judgment) come on board and help me out with DARK AURA. It then came time for the cast and crew premiere of SAVAGE HARVEST and Rebecca invited me to come along. I was pretty excited about this, not only to see the movie, but to finally met Eric Stanze since I was turned away from THE SCARE GAME screening years before. Needlessly to say, I was blown away by SAVAGE HARVEST. No, it wasn’t the best movie ever made, but there was no denying that a lot of passion and craftsmanship went into the making of it. I knew I had to work with this guy! So, after the screening, I approached Eric and expressed my interest in working on whatever he decided to make next (Eric has no recollection of this meeting). A year or so later, I got word about auditions for ICE FROM THE SUN. I went in, auditioned and got the coveted role of Matt (well, it was a big deal for me anyway), and the rest, as they say, is history.

At what point did you say "I want to be a director?" and what was your first project in that role?

I guess I’ve always wanted to be a director from the beginning, although my rationale for doing so has changed over the years. Back when I was making my student films, I figured, “Hey, I’m the director. I can cast myself in any role that I want.” It sounded like a rock-solid plan at the time, but after a few bad experiences of doing this, I quickly decided that I needed to adjust my mindset.

I tend to work instinctually when I make films. I do like to prepare as much as humanly possible before I get to the set (even though I’m not a huge fan of storyboards), but I find that the most satisfying work sometimes comes from the unexpected surprises that may occur at any given time. I find that with directing I can convey my ideas in the clearest way possible and make the necessary adjustments along the way when faced with unexpected circumstances that I can turn to my advantage.

What kind of filmmakers or films inspired you to become a storyteller yourself?

I don’t think I’m as inspired by films as much as I am by the filmmakers. There are lots of directors whose work I greatly admire, like David Lynch, Hal Hartley, and Darren Aronofsky, but the one filmmaker that I consistently find fascinating is David Cronenberg. I greatly respect the intelligence and originality that Cronenberg brings to every film that he does, even to his more mainstream work like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES. His early work in horror really left an impression on me. Films like RABID, THE BROOD, VIDEODROME, SCANNERS, THE FLY, and DEAD RINGERS showed me it’s possible to make films that can give the audience a gut-wrenching visceral experience with gore and special effects (particularly VIDEODROME) while framing that carnage within an intelligent and thought-provoking narrative.

I’d have to say that Eric Stanze himself has been a great influence on me and my work. I find it truly amazing to see the various styles of filmmaking that he utilizes on each film that he does, from the wild and hallucinogenic acid-trip visuals in ICE FROM THE SUN to the slow-burn narrative and visually-intricate atmosphere of DEADWOOD PARK. The aspect of Eric’s approach to filmmaking that I find especially intriguing is the fact that he doesn’t let budget dictate his creativity. He’s never had a substantial budget throughout his entire career, and yet he uses his innovation and intuition to create films that are both truly memorable and that excel far beyond his financial constraints. I can’t think of a better source of inspiration than that.

A lot of filmmakers get started making small personal short films and such that don’t usually see the light of day, were you much the same?

I guess I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had an outlet for many of my short films, mainly through THE SEVERED HEAD NETWORK. Of course, there are a couple short films that have slipped through the cracks and will probably never be seen by the light of day, but that’s fine by me. They were some of my lesser student films and I don’t mind if they fade into obscurity.

There’s not much of a market out there for short films, so I can see why a lot of filmmakers abandon the idea of making them once they get into features. It’s a shame really, because short films can either be a great outlet for ideas that really shouldn’t be expended into feature-length projects (I’m sure everyone can think of films that fit that description), or they can be a great avenue to expand your skills as a filmmaker and to explore ideas that can be utilized later down the road.

 I was impressed with your short "Victim" on THE SEVERED HEAD NETWORK DVD, out of my own curiosity I just have to know – is there any more to this short? Perhaps a piece of a larger film?

Thanx man! No, VICTIM was always conceived as a short film. I came up with the idea for the film in my advanced directing class back when I was attending Webster University in St. Louis. Since I didn’t have the much time in which to tell a story, I thought the film would have a little more dramatic punch if it started at the tail end of a horrifying event, like a multiple homicide. Since the plot of the film isn’t instantly clear as to what’s going on from the outset, I was hoping this mystery would hold the audience’s attention as the story began to play itself out.

VICTIM wasn’t an easy film to make. We shot the entire film in one incredibly fucking cold night in November of 1998 (I think). My lead actress cancelled on me at the last minute due to illness, so I had to promote Molly Reid, who was playing a smaller supporting role at the time, to the lead role with precious little time for her to prepare. The shoot went from early evening to sunrise, and when my cast and crew left, I have a distinct memory of all of the production equipment being totally covered in frost. It was a crazy experience, but I had a great cast and crew working with me, so it was worth going through all the hardships that I faced to make the film.

Why the need for a SAVAGE HARVEST 2? What was it that made you want your first feature to be that project?

I know the original SAVAGE HARVEST has been a success on home video for a number of years and it does have its own little legion of fans, but I don’t think its success reached a level that justified making a sequel for the purposes of capitalizing on that success. As much as I enjoyed the first film, I really had no desire to simply make a rehash for the sequel. Since I had no hardcore financial and/or fan base expectations to contend with, I was working under the radar. I had complete freedom to make any kind of movie that I wanted (as long as the film met certain genre requirements, I suppose), and since this was to be my first feature, that was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.

Eric Stanze seems from commentary tracks and such like he might be a little stand-offish about the original SAVAGE HARVEST, how did he first react when you told him you were interested in making a sequel?

I’m not entirely sure what his initial reaction was. I’m sure it must have been pretty weird for him to have someone approach him with the idea of doing a sequel to one of his earlier flicks. I do know that Eric has always been extremely supportive in my filmmaking endeavors. Even if the idea of doing a sequel to SAVAGE HARVEST seemed like a bizarre concept from the outset, Stanze was very open to seeing how I was going to develop the project.

I do think he’s been rather stand-offish with SAVAGE HARVEST in the past. I believe that he set out to make a grueling, pulse-pounding horror film and was a little disappointed with the end results. As a director, I can understand the disappointments that come with work that doesn’t meet creative expectations. In recent years, I think Eric has made peace with SAVAGE HARVEST and he sees the film as the fun, energetic splatterfest that it truly is. Now that SAVAGE HARVEST 2 has emerged on the scene, I hope that Eric feels some level of satisfaction in watching his original ideas expand beyond the confines of the first film.

Was it the rather deep mythos of the original film that sparked your interest in such a project, and were you worried when writing – about keeping all of the various rules set forth by the original?

I really appreciated the intricate mythos that Stanze created in the first SAVAGE HARVEST. It’s rather rare to see that much depth invested in a modern horror story, regardless of the budget, but that’s not really what made me interested in doing SAVAGE HARVEST 2. I’m a big fan of demon-possession flicks like THE EXORCIST, THE EVIL DEAD and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. I love the concept of a person being turned into a murderous creature by some third-party entity that than must be dealt with by people who have an intimate connection with that person, whether it be a lover, friend or family member. I was obsessed with these films and really wanted to try and make my own.

To be honest, the complex structure of the SAVAGE HARVEST mythology was kind of a pain in my ass when it came time to write the script for SAVAGE HARVEST 2. I was faced with a lot of decisions to make. How much of the mythos do I carry over to the sequel? Can I assume that everyone that watches SAVAGE HARVEST 2 has seen the original? If I put too much of the original mythos into SAVAGE HARVEST 2, will there be any room left for my ideas? These were all things I grappled with when writing the script. I came to the conclusion that since this was a sequel, I felt somewhat obliged to at least "cover the bases" and provide a little recap of information that was given in the original film in case there were people out there that decided to watch the sequel first. There’s a lengthy scene in the original where the entire mythological back story is given in one big expositional sequence. That scene is repeated in the sequel, albeit in a much more abbreviated manner. There are pieces of information that were given in the original film that I decided not to include in the sequel. For anyone that has seen the original film, they will know what the characters in SAVAGE HARVEST 2 need to do to survive the situation that they find themselves in, but the characters themselves have not been made aware of this information. Basically, it was all about trying to find the balance to satisfy fans of the first film while trying to give the sequel a voice and identity of its own to avoid being a simple-minded remix tape of ideas that were previously explored.

Was it intentional from the start to relax the pace and show a more mature form of filmmaking that the original film might not have had?

I definitely wanted to change the tone of the film, while keeping the elements in place that made the original film such a success. I think that’s the purpose of a sequel; to give the audience a taste of the familiar and then throw in some different ingredients to give them a new experience. I know I wouldn’t be too keen on simply re-doing the style that Eric implemented in SAVAGE HARVEST. Not only that, the story that I was trying to tell warranted a different kind of shooting style.

If there’s one thing I wasn’t too thrilled with in SAVAGE HARVEST, it was the lack of character development. I don’t fault Eric for this. It wasn’t his intention to create a sweeping epic with rich character arcs. He set out to make a gruesome, EVIL DEAD-style splatter flick and he achieved that marvelously. When I look at the two SAVAGE HARVEST movies, I like to draw comparisons between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD. In NIGHT, the story takes place over a short period of time in a limited number of locations to give a tight, claustrophobic feel to the film. DAWN contrasts this by opening up the original story onto a much bigger canvas to refocus those original ideas in a much more epic manner. With OCTOBER BLOOD, I really wanted to flesh out the characters more. This film focused on how people process grief over the loss of loved ones and I wanted to show how the lives of the main characters were greatly affected by the events of the first film. I’m a strong believer in the idea that the more time you spend with the characters, the more the audience will feel for their collective plights when they have to deal with the horror aspects of the story. I believe this approach to the characters really lent itself to a more "slow burn" method of filmmaking. At first I thought I was going to go for a more overt shooting style during the first half of the film, but I later decided to let that part of the story play out more through the performances, composition and editing. As the horror elements begin to manifest themselves in the story, the shooting style becomes way more stylized and chaotic.

 What were your original hopes for the type of film that SH2 would become, and did it live up to your own expectations?

I guess with OCTOBER BLOOD, I wanted to show that horror can be more than mere convention (i.e. – boobs and blood). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with boobs and blood, but horror can be some much more than that. True, I may have been limited by my minuscule budget, but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Having
little money didn’t really matter to me. I had an awesome cast and crew that believed in the project, so what did I have to lose by aiming high with my ambitions? You only go around once in this crazy life so I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity by making something average and mediocre just so I could make a few bucks. I had a lot of myself that I wanted to give to this project, both personally and professionally, and even though some people will probably turn up their nose at this project because it wasn’t made on a Hollywood scale starring the new flavor-of-the-month starlet, I forged ahead undeterred by inhibitions or hesitations to make the best fucking film I could. It was an amazing sense of freedom, one that I hope to experience again someday.

OCTOBER BLOOD is not a perfect film. I do see a few things that I’d probably do differently if I had the chance, but what’s the point in dwelling on such flaws? The film was an amazing learning experience that I’ll take with me to the next film that I make. To me, making movies is not about achieving perfection. That’s impossible, especially since perfection is such an extremely subjective term. Making films is a pretty miraculous thing, akin to stealing something as intangible as a dream and forever capturing it within a frame. It’s a process that will always inspire awe within me and that makes me appreciate any project that I do despite any apparent flaws that project might have.

I think the response to SH2 has been very positive. There have been numerous reviews that have pointed out the fact that this film offers audiences a different experience then what can typically be found in modern horror cinema, which I find very gratifying. I think a lot of Wicked Pixel fans enjoy the film as well, and that means a lot to me! Sure, the film has its detractors. Of course, you can’t please everyone and I wasn’t trying to. It always drives me nuts when I watch corporate-minded Hollywood shit that sets out to make films that will be embraced by everybody, which more often than not, end up so bland that they really don’t please anybody. At the end of the day, the only person I was really trying to please with OCTOBER BLOOD was myself and I’m very happy with how the movie turned out.

What is next for Jason Christ? What kind of projects are you tied up with these days?

A film that we have in development right now is a brutal little slice of fantasy horror titled SEIZURE, which I co-wrote with Eric. It has very gruesome and surrealistic subject matter that will be tempered with an artfully-controlled visual style. I liken it to a grindhouse fairy tale. The project, which will be directed by Eric, has garnered a lot of interest in the horror community and has attracted some recognizable genre names to the project. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money, so whether or not we move forward with this project will depend greatly on if we can secure the budget that’s needed on time.

In addition to SEIZURE, we have other projects, some that venture outside the Wicked Pixel mainstay of horror, which we’ve placed on the back burner for the time being. I’m also developing the next project that I’d like to tackle as a director, but there is no definite time frame as to when these projects will come about. I guess that will depend on how circumstances evolve as Wicked Pixel Cinema forges ahead. So many projects, so little time! I’m not entirely sure what the future will hold for Wicked Pixel, but I’m sure it’s going to be one hell of ride!

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We at Rogue Cinema would like to thank Jason for his time and efforts, and would encourage all of you to go out and learn more about his work as well as that of Wicked Pixel. You can check out Christ’s personal Myspace as well as the official Wicked Pixel website! Show your support and pick up a copy of Savage Harvest 2 you scrubs!