An Interview with Kurt Larson – By Philip Smolen

As most readers of Rogue Cinema know, I’ve put my time in on this planet, so I lived through a lot of important historical events including the Cuban Missile Crisis (I still remember practicing hiding under my desk) the Moon Landing, and more importantly, the era of the TV horror host! So when I got the opportunity to review a new movie about a young horror host, I was stoked!

Kurt Larson’s “Son of Ghostman” (2013) is a sparkling indie film, full of humor, warmth and a genuine nostalgic love for weird TV icons (for my review, please click here). It tells the story of Denny McNamara (Devin Ordoyne), a thirty something who is still wandering through life. One night while drunk, Denny dresses up like his childhood TV horror hero, Ghostman, and records a rambling and incoherent diatribe against his high school nemesis Rick Heenan (Kurt Larson), who also happens to be the local horror host Count Dracool. The next day, with the help of teenage internet wiz Zack (Matthew Boehm) Denny becomes an internet sensation. Now all he has to do is beat Rick at his own game, make his fortune and win the heart of Zack’s beautiful Aunt Claire (Angela Gulner).

Wanting to know more about this great little movie, I contacted writer/director/actor Kurt Larson. The multi-talented Kurt graciously accepted my invitation and filled me in on the “Son of Ghostman story.”

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RC: Kurt, “Son of Ghostman” (SOG) is your first feature film and I loved it. How did you get “the bug”? When did you know that movies were what you really wanted to do?

KL: Like a lot of young kids, I always dreamed of being in movies. I acted in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I was hooked very early on and just making audiences laugh was a thrill. I then took up screenwriting when the “Good Will Hunting” phenomenon hit, and started seriously pursuing it shortly thereafter. Nothing was going to deter me from moving out to Los Angeles and going for it.

RC: Did you have a family member that turned you on to the magic of movies?

KL: Not really, no one in my family was into films on that level. Don’t get me wrong, my Father turned us on to old “Twilight Zone” episodes and comic books, but being from the Midwest suburbs of Chicago, pursuing a career in entertainment just wasn’t an option. I was a bit of a weirdo in that sense.

RC: Where did the idea for SOG come from? Did you have any horror movie hosts that you loved?

KL: Son of Svengoolie, WFLD Channel 32 (now nationally on ME-TV). Both my parents worked very hard, sometimes 60 hours a week to make ends meet. As a consequence, my brother was forced to watch over me. He’s seven years older, and that age gap can seem insurmountable when you’re young, so finding like-minded interests was a challenge. But there was this crazy long-haired guy running around our television set in makeup, showing these amazing old monster movies. Svengoolie really was an important glue to our bond, and I always wanted to honor that in some fashion.

Cut to today, and a lot of my creative colleagues are facing challenges in regards to what we do with our lives now that we’re in our thirties and still struggling to get ahead… I realized that we spend far too much time worrying about our “career” rather than why we even want to do this in the first place. I got into this to make people smile, laugh, and tell a good story. Just because Hollywood hasn’t let me yet doesn’t mean I can’t do it, right? That’s when the idea of a micro-budget film about horror hosts popped into my head, as I thought the innate metaphors were really interesting.

RC: How organic was the screenplay? I mean how much room did you leave for improvisation and change once filming started?

KL: I wanted all my actors to feel comfortable offering ideas and suggestions. If it can make the film stronger while still adhering to the core thematic elements, I’m all for it. So I certainly encouraged improv, but truthfully, most of what you see on the screen was written ahead of time. There were scenes we cut, and lines we changed, but not much.

RC: How much of SOG is autobiographical?

KL: As I’ve said before, it would be disingenuous to imply that Denny has no connection to me. It’s very autobiographical from that point of view- the idea of what’s important in life, struggling to accept who you are, and various strained relations. All that stuff hits very close to home. I am struggling, I am kind of a weirdo, and I do question if continuing down this creative path is wise from a stability standpoint. My other friends have deep roots with little concern about the future, and I just put all my savings into a film about horror hosts! The parallel is certainly there!

I often wonder if what I’m trying to do matters, but when someone writes you to tell you how much they connected to your film? It’s all infinitely worth it. I couldn’t stop if I tried.

RC: The romance between Denny (Devin Ordoyne) and Claire (Angela Gulner) is quite sweet and innocent. How were you able to develop this without it turning maudlin and sappy?

KL: Don’t have the characters say “I love you”. It really is as simple as that. Why would they say they love each other when they’ve just met? It would be ridiculous to me, and too often romantic comedies do this. No sex scenes. No I love you. Just two adults, dealing with their own issues, but enjoying their time spent with one another.

I was very conscious that we were going to need a few cheesy lines, because without them, it becomes too indie serious for me. So I tried to pick my spots, not overdo them, and constantly turn what could have been maudlin moments into humor. Every time you think it’s going to get into eye-rolling territory, I’d thrown in some laughs or bizarre dialogue.

Another incredibly crucial moment is their dance, which is really the only traditional romantic moment of the film. I can’t say this enough- Omarr Awake. Omarr Awake. Omarr Awake. His song, “6AM” was a miracle find. It has just the right blend of truth and soul, while not being depressing. The first time I heard it, I knew I had to have it. The fact that Omarr gave his blessing to us, especially when we were making a 1980’s esque film about horror hosts was unbelievable.

That song and the intimacy of the scene emphatically made the audience buy into the romance, and I’m just grateful I got the chance to work with someone I truly feel is on the rise. People should check him out at http://www.omarrawake.com/

RC: Who was the inspiration for Count Dracool?

KL: Rex Manning (“Empire Records”, [1995]). Billy Mitchell (“The King of Kong”, [2007]), Shooter McGavin (“Happy Gilmore” [1996]). And of course, Johnny Lawrence from “The Karate Kid” (1984).

Count Dracool is your classic douche bag. From his wardrobe to his sunblock, I wanted him to be incredibly arrogant but misguided. I loved how he really was two villains- Count Dracool and then Rick Heenan. Dracool was obnoxious, over the top, and sleazy. Heenan, on the other hand, was buttoned-up, arrogant, and snide. It was a blast playing him!

RC: Did you know someone like Zack (Mathew Boehm)?

KL: Not exactly. I’ve always tried to mentor actors/artists who first come out to LA to pursue their dreams. I had no such mentor, and I found most of the older guys at that time to be cynical and competitive. I never wanted to be that way, so I always try to encourage young adults, because it’s impossible for them to see the bigger picture at that age. They’re still really fresh and under construction.

I wish someone pushed me to go to film school when I was Zack’s age, because that’s where I belonged, rather than trying to fulfill someone else’s aspirations for my life.

You have to be true to yourself. You just have to be, and it’s not always easy or practical, but it’s the only way.

RC: How did your cast come together? Where did you find everyone?

KL: The main cast was all brought in from a series of auditions, in most cases three different readings. I think Devin Ordoyne did four, as we needed to see the traditional leading man and the horror host aspect. The other parts were filled mostly by actor friends who I wanted to spotlight in some fashion, in many cases playing roles they usually don’t get an opportunity to play.

RC: You’ve mentioned to me that you only had a two man crew. Who was your other crew member?

KL: Gabriel Guyer (gabrielguyer.com). He’s a musician and an artist, as well as being one of my closest friends. He had no aspirations to make a film, but he loves a good adventure. I don’t think he had ever been presented with one so challenging and so long-term, but I can be fairly persuasive, HA! The timing just worked out, and thankfully he did it. Without him, there is no movie. At all!

RC: What equipment did you use?

KL: All the cliché stuff you read about on film making forums:

Canon 7D with 4 lenses- 50mm f1.4, 28mm f2.8, Tokina 11-16mm, Kit lens
Zoom h4N
Rode ntg-2 mic
Wireless lav mics for guerrilla scenes (which Gabriel implores me to tell people
never to use)
China balls and umbrella lights for lighting
Final Cut X
Magic Bullet for post
Shoulder Rig
Wheelchair for dolly shots

I’ll say this, this equipment is cliché for a reason. It works.

RC: How long did you shoot? How long was post production?

KL: We shot roughly 28 days, with no re-shoots. Post took roughly a year and a half, as I was doing all the editing while Gabriel did sound. We were putting in crazy hours before, during, and after the shoot. You have to. It was the only way, and many times we had to find reserve energy to keep going. Even now, I spend hours every day just trying to get the word out. It really does become your life.

RC: Where did you premiere SOG?

KL: We are currently exploring avenues for a proper premiere. We showed a rough cut to about 150 people in a theater a year before we released it. This was exceptionally helpful in seeing what did and didn’t work with the film, and then we edited it for another year. There were probably ten different ‘cuts’ during that period, and all while we were searching for the right music. It was laborious, and one of the mistakes we made was submitting these rough cuts to film festivals. I can’t say this enough, don’t submit rough cuts to festivals. It’s a huge mistake, and one that hurt us. That being said, I had a decision to make once the film was done… do I release the film on my own now, or continue to chase festivals?

I made the decision to release on Halloween, and focus on a grassroots campaign. Deadlines are important to me, and the idea of making the film on my own from start to finish, in every capacity, appealed to me.

RC: Then what festival activity are you gearing up for in 2014?

KL: Well, again, the film is now readily available to the public, so our festival options are pretty limited. Almost every major festival requires the film to be private and unavailable for purchase. I would have loved to go to festivals, and I’m sure we would have, but that is not our path.

RC: What pleases you the most about the film?

KL: Truthfully, that we did it. From the standpoint, no one can heckle it. You may not like it, but you can’t hate on it because of what we did to get here. I had never directed, never DPed, and certainly never led that amount of people on such an enormous undertaking. Gabriel has never done sound on a film. His wife Sara, had never done makeup on a film. You simply can’t underestimate what little resources we had. We were just two guys in a field, running around with a camera and some willing actors. The fact that people are responding to it is beautiful, but the journey is just as important.

I’m also ecstatic that many of the actors are getting much deserved praise because that was one of the things I promised them. I know all too well what it’s like to be on-screen and realize that for whatever reason, your acting isn’t working. They trusted me, and together we became a close-knit band of misfit toys.

As a collective, we did it. We made a film against all reasonable odds.

RC: If you could remake SOG, what would you do differently?

KL: Good question. I would re-shoot the top three scenes, or at least shoot a few days with Gabriel where we literally just get in a rhythm before bringing actors in. Our technical abilities grew exponentially as the filming continued throughout the month that we shot. He would want me to say that we would never use wireless lavs again. I’d never submit rough cuts to festivals, and finally I also would have shot some footage of the locals and their love of the various horror hosts (it was originally in the script).

RC: Kurt, how did you get such fabulous songs in the film? They are their own character and they carry all of the characters underlying emotions so well.

KL: Music is an enormous part of the film, and Gabriel and I searched for over a year to get just the right songs and tone. First and foremost, I’m just lucky to have some incredibly talented friends who know me and know what I’m trying to do. Because of that trust, they created a variety of songs specifically tailored to the music. Kurt Gellersted (www.kurtgellersted.com) scores tv / entertainment for a living, and I just happen to know him since we were 5 years old. He is, without question, the leader of our soundtrack. The score is from him, as well as a variety of rock songs. This guy genuinely does it all, and his range is just stupid amazing. The various Ghostman themes were written by two other close friends of ours, Adam & Christina Fauth (www.rockdaddyeesign). In fact, they ARE Demonchild in the film! Finally, a guy named Dreamwave Dave really came in towards the end and filled out some holes with some much needed 1980’s synth  (https://soundcloud.com/dreamwave-dave-1)

Everything else was done by either musician friends or bands we found  while exhaustively searching sites like ReverbNation and Soundcloud. It certainly helped that Gabriel is in two bands, as he was really the guy that spoke with each musician. The truth is, it’s a mutually beneficial situation. If the product is good, everyone benefits. Hopefully we bring in some fresh ears to their music, and they bring in some fresh eyes to the film. Moreover, I felt extreme responsibility to make sure their music was part of a project they could be proud of. I didn’t want to let them down, because I have such a deep appreciation of musicians. What they do is amazing to me, and I’d be fairly depressed if they were unhappy about their participation in the film.

RC: Where can people find SOG?

KL: Right from our website, http://sonofghostman.com. It’s literally $3 on Vimeo, or they can order a DVD on Amazon. We’re looking to expand into Amazon on Demand, Netflix, and HULU within the year. But for now, you can’t beat 3 bucks! It’s a sweet, throwback movie that we really recommend couples check out. We won’t let you down!

RC: What’s next for Kurt Larson?

KL: I still act, write, and am certainly planning on making more films. I have two specific scripts I’m polishing right now, and I’d love to be shooting something in 2015. “Son of Ghostman” was meant to be a giant business card, and I’m open to talking with all types of film people- producers, managers, actors, whatever! I love building the collective! In the meantime, I podcast weekly about what it’s like to pursue a career in creativity while still not being a household name. It’s called Stay Cool, Geek and it keeps me busy, people can find it on itunes. All my work can be found at www.kurtedwardlarson.com

RC: Thanks so much Kurt! And good luck with “Son of Ghostman”.

KL: Thank you Phil, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to talk about the film and truly thankful for anyone out there who supports TRUE indie film! Best always sir!