An Interview with Joe Randazzo – By Michael Baron Craze

This interview conducted with award-winning screenwriter Joe Randazzo, who won first place for the feature length screenplay at The Terror Film Festival, held in the beloved city of Philadelphia, PA in 2010. Many film festivals overlook the screenwriters, and focus solely on the actors and the directors and the films themselves, this article and the subsequent ones to follow, is the intention of this author to highlight the screenwriters’ important contribution to the films.

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MB: What is the title of your screenplay that won you a Claw Award? What did you win? How did you come upon the title?

JR: RIPPER is such a catchy title, how could I not go with it? It won me a lot of awards last year and the Claw was the final one.

MB: Is this your first Script? If not how many before this one?

JR: This was my first solo feature script. I have a story credit on Dave Campfield’s upcoming DEADLY X-MAS, and have written and won awards for many shorts.

MB: What genre if any do you fancy and why?

JR: I love all genres. I love cinema in general, but horror has always been near and dear to my heart. I guess it’s the escapist nature of it. When you read about writers like Stoker or Poe, or many of those who love this genre, you’ll find a common thread that links us all, we’re all misfits. Either in the case of Stoker, where he had a childhood riddled with illness and spent a great deal of time alone, or so many other cases like mine where you were unpopular, the subject of ridicule or scorn, so you withdrew to a world of monsters and make believe. Some of these movies cater to that demographic like no other genre can. With movies like the first two Universal Frankenstein films you sometimes find yourself connecting with this poor creature that’s really just misunderstood and can’t find his place among those around him. I’ve always been drawn to that aesthetic of the surreal and the macabre. It always seemed to call to me, and the forced solitude of being the class misfit only fueled my appreciation for that aesthetic. I can’t tell you how many times as a child in my local video store I rented Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club simply because of the multi-colored monster faces juxtaposed with Elvira’s sultry curves on the front cover. It was just beautiful to look at, and that became my introduction to the monster movie.

MB: What have you been doing since the fifth straight Terror Film Festival ended for you and your script? What other awards have you won for this screenplay?

JR: Terror Film Fest’s Claw Award is actually the 7th award for RIPPER. It won awards at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival, the Indie Gathering in Cleveland, the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix, the Los Angeles Reel Film Festival, the Oklahoma Horror Film Festival, and the Fright Night Film Festival, which holds a special place in my heart as I was congratulated by two icons, Tom Atkins and Roger Corman! The screenplay has since been optioned by Vistar Pictures, and I’m hoping to see it released in 2012. I have been busy on other scripts. My writing partner Steven Gladstone and I have a new haunted house script we’re hoping to unleash shortly. It’s a story about abusive relationships, their cyclical nature, and the how the victims of those types of relationships seem to go from one bad situation into another. I’m also an executive producer on the upcoming Troma release Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical (on DVD and BluRay this October), a writer/producer on Deadly X-Mas, and I’m featured in Lloyd Kaufman’s latest documentary Produce Your Own Damn Movie! (on DVD and BluRay this July).

MB: Was this your first fest that you attend as a filmmaker? How did you find the festival to be and treated as filmmaker even though you are screenwriter?

JR: No, I had been making the rounds with this script. I attended nearly every fest that accepted it. I found this fest to be a bit more laid back than most, and I find that often the genre festivals have a tendency to treat the writers better than the mainstream fests. I can tell you some horror stories about other fests! I also like that this fest gives you free time during the day to explore the city. That’s one of the selling points of travelling out to a fest for me, is to get out and enjoy the city and explore.

MB: When starting a screenplay you think of word-association or view images or think of elements you like and think the audience will enjoy? Simply put, how do you start your creation?

JR: I’m an odd writer in that I don’t put pen to paper, so to speak, until very late in the process. I do a lot of research, I begin plotting, and then I mull over things for several weeks. The first four weeks or so of RIPPER were essentially me reading every book I could get my hands on about the Whitechapel murders, then sitting around throwing the plot around in my head, and finding where all the pieces of the puzzle need to go to build up to a nice crescendo. It’s a long process for me because I plot meticulously.

MB: What jobs do you have or held before launching your writing career and have the backgrounds influence your style or characters?

JR: I use EVERY THING to influence my characters. I’ve held a multitude of jobs I hated before the career took off, and the jobs themselves rarely come into play as much as the people I meet in my day to my life.

MB: How did you decide to become a screenwriter? Do you agree your profession, may be the hardest part of filmmaking with the least respect?

JR: I always loved writing, even as a child. As for how I decided to pursue it as a career, I owe that to my ex-girlfriend Michelle. I wrote a bunch of shorts while a student at the School of Visual Arts, and by 2004-2005, I had given up on my dream because breaking in was virtually impossible. Michelle moved in with me, and one night while I was working as a security guard, she found a box of my scripts, and knowing that my job was making me miserable, she suggested that I pursue writing. I told her she was out of her mind, and she gave me an ultimatum: Just send five short scripts to one fest. If they lose, she’d drop it, and I’d continue living my life in obscurity, but if I won, I’d have to pursue my dream. I took her up on it, and sent 5 scripts to Shriekfest and hoped for the best. I got an email that one made the semi-finals, I laughed it off. Two weeks later or so, festival director Denise Gossett called me and told me I had made the finals. I was excited, but couldn’t make it to LA on my security guard salary, so I turned to my dear friend Valerie Querns, who agreed to go for the networking opportunities. The night of the awards gala around 1am, my phone rings, and it was Valerie. Almost instinctively when I said that Valerie was calling, my girlfriend had a huge smile on her face and began jumping up and down. I answered the phone to hear Valerie tell me I had won. I never worked another day as anything but a writer since.

As for the respect issue, I agree that we are treated with less respect than we probably should be. When you compare the respect a screenwriter gets as opposed to a playwright, it’s a world of difference. In the theatre, the playwright’s words are to be treated like gospel, while screenwriters have to deal with every run down idiot with a bad idea trying to leave an imprint on what you took so long to create.

MB: What have been some of the challenges you have faced with your profession? Do you have any advice to up and coming screenwriters?

JR: It’s a hard job! Just breaking in is virtually impossible, and when you do you’ll need a thick skin, and be ready to part with your idea. Listen to the great Jerry Cantrell song “Owned,” because that’s gonna be the story of your life!

MB: When you wrote your award-winning screenplay how long, did you take on development and exploration of the leads characters? In addition, do you treat the scenery or location as a character?

JR: I took nearly a month of mulling over characters and ideas for this script. The actual writing of the script was the least time consuming! As for treating locations as characters, I didn’t in this case, although I knew before I started that I wanted a murder to take place with the iconic Manhattan Bridge shot of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America in the background. The new screenplay I co-wrote with Steven Gladstone very much treats the location as a character.

MB: What did you learn from your script and what was the hardest element you dealt with it? Additionally, how did you approach your screenplay (did you use experiences or society norms and twist them)?

JR: The hardest element to deal with is that albatross that hangs over all genre pieces, making the impossible seem not only probable, but also somehow logical! It takes VERY meticulous plotting, and a bit of dumb luck, but it can happen. As far as societal norms, I’m very much a subversive at heart, so to turn societal norms on their ear for my art has always been a passion, and I feel that I do that with RIPPER. The standard religious mores of sex are turned on their ear. It really is a story of obsession and how it destroys people when cut down to its core, and I practically blame the Whitechapel murders on religion in my own roundabout way.

MB: What, if anything, did you realize or learn from the Terror Film Festival and festivals in general concerning your future as a screenwriter? Who, if anyone, did you find to be the most influential person that you spoke to at the Terror Film Festival?

JR: In my opinion, that would be Gregory Orr! He made an EXCELLENT film that I felt was head and shoulders above all other features not only at this fest, but most fests I’ve been to all year, and he was very approachable, very cool, and very fun to chat with. As far as what I learned on the road at these fests, it’s been that the industry is watching those on the cusp closely.

MB: When Hollywood is in the mode of redoing and remaking movies, especially horror films, do you enjoy this? Why should a producer make your screenplay into an original film?

JR: I look at remakes on a case by case basis. There have been some great ones (Let Me In) and some utter crap (A Nightmare on Elm Street), but I’m not down on remakes in general. People act as though this is a new trend! Some of the greatest works of our genre have been remakes! Most of the great Hammer Films were remakes! John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake! Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price became horror stars because of their work in remakes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mystery of the Wax Museum, respectively. Where would this genre be without them? I have no issue whatsoever with remakes, generally speaking. Like anything else, some are great, some aren’t.

As for why RIPPER should be made into an original film, I think the accolades speak for themselves, and that’s why it was optioned.

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