An Interview with Justin Channell – By Brian Morton

Back In June, I got the chance to talk to a young up and coming film maker Justin Channell, the writer/director of Raising The Stakes. Well, Justin’s been a busy guy, not only is Raising The Stakes now available on DVD for the mere fee of $10, but it’s packed full of extras…could there be a better deal? Well, maybe but I’m not a salesman, I’m a lowly movie reviewer. But, since Raising The Stakes is a very good movie, I thought it might be a nice to check in with Justin and see how things are going.

BMG: First of all, for those who aren’t familiar with you, how about a little of your background? What made you want to make movies? How you got into it, that kind of thing.

JC: Well, I had always been a movie fan, but I really started to get into horror after seeing MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs, which I became an avid viewer of after seeing the Night of the Living Dead remake on there. After that, I ended up seeing all the usual horror classics and once I got the internet, I found out about all the independent and microbudget filmmakers that are out there, and through that, I became obsessed about films and filmmaking.

From there, I ended up meeting Josh Lively, who had similar interests. Once he saw copies of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 in my bag after a marching band practice, that sealed our fate as friends. I had begun producing the TV show at my junior high school (Lively was a year older, so he was already in high school at the time), so I knew the basics of digital video and non-linear editing. Since I knew most of the technical stuff and both of us were interested, we decided to start making films with our friends. Lively bought a Digital8 camera and we started making a bunch of shitty shorts, getting all of our friends involved, including Zane Crosby, who kept the flame going all these years.

BMG: All of us here at RC are really happy to hear that Raising The Stakes is being released on DVD for everyone to see, tell us about the process. How long and how hard is it really for up and coming film-makers, like yourself, to get these things done?

JC: Well, as soon as the final cut of the film was done, I started compiling the extras and shooting footage of our screenings, local band performances, etc. So we had everything for the DVD done pretty early. While I was preparing them, we sent the film around to all of the usual indie distributors, most of which turned us down. They could tell we knew what we were doing, but since there wasn’t the usual sale points in the film (gore & nudity), there were some issues with lighting, and most of our cast was in high school (despite the fact that I have releases from all of their guardians), they all passed.

However, from the beginning we had an offer from our good friend Henrique Couto at Freak Productions to do a micro-distribution deal. We had met him at Horrorfind during my first year going there and became friends. His DVD authoring work and promotion skills at conventions are very impressive, so we were blessed to have him come on board to put everything together and put together an impressive looking disc for the film. You might recognize his work from the independent DVD releases of Low Budget Pictures, Dudez Productions, and 4 th Floor Pictures. He took the extras we had and the crappy still menu designs I put together and made it look like a professional disc. I was incredibly impressed with the job he did and it was priceless seeing Zane’s face when I popped the DVD in and he saw himself on a motion DVD menu for the first time. It was kind of like when a puppy sees his reflection in a water bowl for the first time, but less cute.

So basically, it really wasn’t that hard for us to get released on DVD, considering the fact that we’re dealing with a friend and someone who’s in the same DIY shoes as us.

BMG: How can anyone out there get their grubby little hands on their own copy of Raising The Stakes?

JC: Well, you can head on over to FreakProductions.net and snag a copy for only $10. We’re selling copies too, but we’re mainly focusing on selling locally and letting Freak cover the online sales. So unless you want to swing by my house to save yourself shipping costs, just go through Henrique.

The $10 charge is pretty good, considering how much stuff is actually on this disc. We have a pretty riotous commentary track with me, Zane Crosby, and Josh Lively, as well as a lot of guests. This was after I had been away at Governor’s Honors Academy for three weeks, so it’s a bit of a reunion as well.

There’s also a forty minute long outtake reel, which may seem pretty long, but once you see it, you’ll understand. Zane, Josh, and I have been doing this for so long that we know how to make it fun, so there’s lots of adlibbed takes that end in a lot of laughter. Plus, I’m notoriously bad for not paying attention and leaving the camera running, so there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes footage.

We also have deleted scenes, which includes two alternate endings and an extended cut of one of my favorite sequences in the film. There’s footage from all of our pre-DVD release screenings, live performances from some of the soundtrack musicians, and a featurette on the ADR (dubbing) process of the film, which is basically all the silly takes we didn’t use in the film.

So, if you think $10 is a bit too much for an independent microbudget film, just look at how much stuff is on the disc. You don’t even get that much with most Hollywood flicks whose DVDs cost twice as much.

BMG: For everyone out there who’d love to make their own movie, but aren’t sure where to start, what advice would you give?

JC: I’d say, get a DV camcorder and a computer capable of editing and just start shooting short films. Watch lots of films and pay close attention to editing, which is where I feel a lot of DIY films fall short. Hell, even Raising The Stakes has editing problems. You’re going to make mistakes in filmmaking all the time and you might as well get as many out as you possibly can before you start showing your work to the public.

And in that sense, be sure to watch a lot of b-movies, as there’s a lot of wealthy information you can learn from them. That’s why I think my work reviewing movies for Troma really was beneficial: a lot of the films in their catalogue feature a lot of technical problems and such that the filmmakers wish they would’ve foreseen. By learning from the mistakes of others and seeing where a good idea might’ve gone wrong, you might be able to prevent your own mistakes.

But take note, as much as you try, you’ll inevitably still screw up somewhere. Raising The Stakes has plenty of examples of that.

BMG: What’s on the table right now? Last time you told us about Die And Let Live, any progress on that or is there something else coming at us?

JC: Well, basically, the initial shoot of Die & Let Live failed miserably. Everyone was getting ready for college and getting situated in their lives and it was just happening at a bad time. So after one shoot, I wasn’t happy with how it was going to turn out with everything that was going on, so I just decided to hold off for a while. So right now, I’m rewriting the script, with a lot of input from Josh and Zane and some new subplots, and we’re hopefully going into production this June, if we can raise sufficient funds.

Basically, this film is like a mix of Return of the Living Dead, a satirical spin on Degrassi-esque melodrama, The Sandlot, and the social commentary of my idols George A. Romero and Lloyd Kaufman. As far as I can tell from what we’ve got so far, it’s going to be the funniest thing we’ve ever done, if all goes well.

But in the meantime, we did a quickie short film called A FETAL MISTAKE that’s featured in Faces of Schlock Vol. 2, a compilation that’s also available from Freak Productions. Basically, it’s about two babysitters that kill a baby and re-animate it, then it turns evil and escapes. So then, an out-of-work redneck animal control officer has to take care of it. We shot it in 24p and man, it looks really good. We had a lot of fun doing that one and it really shows… it’s a really fun little short. Lively claims it’s actually better than Raising The Stakes, so maybe you should check that out instead. Actually, all the shorts on Faces of Schlock 2 are really fun, so I’m glad that Chris LaMartina and Henrique Couto asked us to be involved.

BMG: Alright, if people haven’t seen the movie this question might not make sense, but, the hell with it, those people can go buy the DVD! What’s up with Chief Cornbread? Will he be in your future movies or has he become a temperamental star now?

JC: Chief Cornbread is an enigma we wish to explore more someday. We’ve discussed doing a feature explaining his background. Even if that doesn’t happen, I assure you that you’ll see more of him in the future.

BMG: Last time you said you had toyed with the idea with Steve and Bob trying to become superheroes. Any more on that or is that just an inside joke with you guys?

JC: Zane and Josh really want to do it, but our focus is sticking on Die & Let Live for right now. Zane actually did a mock poster for it, but it unfortunately got lost in a computer crash. We’ve been wanting to do a superhero movie for a long time, so even if it’s not Raising The Stakes related, it’ll probably happen eventually.

Well, we had better be at the top of the list when Die & Let Live is finished! Thanks again for your time and good luck with the DVD release of Raising The Stakes, it’s a good movie that deserves the attention. If you want to get your very own copy of this fun movie, drop on over to FreakProductions.net. And we here at RC wish Justin and his crew the best of luck!