An Interview with P.J. Starks and Jakob Bilinski on the Collaboration Process – By Duane L. Martin

Filmmakers P.J. Starks and Jakob Bilinski are currently working on a few film together called My Horror Project. The collaboration process between two established filmmakers on a project is something that’s not usually discussed all that much, so I thought it would be interesting to give you all a look into that process by discussing it with P.J. and Jakob.

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DLM: Give us brief summary about your body of work?

JAKE: I’ve written, directed, produced, shot, and edited over 30 shorts and music videos. My 2006 70s throwback short, FOXXY MADONNA VS THE BLACK DEATH and my 2011 sci-fi thriller short, OBSOLESCENCE, are probably my most popular ones. Both have received great reviews and had pretty successful international (and award-winning!) festival runs. My debut feature, SHADE OF GREY, won "Best Feature Film – Suspense" at the 2009 NY International Independent Film Festival, in Los Angeles, and was released on DVD in 2010 by Celebrity Home Entertainment. I also directed the 2011 documentary PERCEIVING REALITY: THE MAKING OF SCALENE.

P.J.: I’ve had a chance to work on some incredible projects as well as create some unique events within my hometown of Owensboro, KY. I’m the writer/director of HALLOWS EVE: SLAUGHTER ON SECOND STREET and the award winning short A MIND BESIDE ITSELF. I was Co-Producer on David Breckman’s (writer/director Monk) short film MURDER IN KENTUCKY and Co-Editor/Director of Photography on REMAINDERED, a short by Lee Goldberg (writer/executive producer DIAGNOSIS MURDER, MONK, THE GLADES). This summer I am Associate Producing two other projects; an indie horror feature called THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH (currently in post) and a web-series THE BOOK OF DALLAS (currently shooting). I’m also the Creator for The Indie Film Series at Kentucky Wesleyan College and the Co-Creator/Event Facilitator for The River City Festival of Films.

DLM: How did you both meet?

P.J.: Honestly, Jake can remember how we met better than I can. I believe it was through mutual friends on Facebook.

JAKE: It was a cool summer’s eve and the moon was full… Yeah, no really it was sort of a coincidence. P.J.’s film HALLOWS EVE: SLAUGHTER ON SECOND STREET and my film SHADE OF GREY were both reviewed in the same issue of a local arts magazine here in Evansville, IN. When I read the articles I remember thinking to myself, "Hey… There’s some other crazy asshole running around here making movies?! Why haven’t we met?!" A year or so later we finally crossed paths on Facebook and soon thereafter met and had the opportunity to check out each other’s’ work, and quickly became fans of what the other one was doing. And here we are now. Still two crazy assholes running around here making movies.

DLM: When did you realize it was time to combine forces to work on a project?

JAKE: I think we had that notion more or less from the get-go when we met. Being as we both really enjoyed each other’s’ work and cinematic styles, we started actively looking for ways to collaborate. We’ve been pitching multiple script ideas back and forth for a while now (and are working on some of them for the future), MY HORROR PROJECT was just the first one to come to fruition. P.J.’s one of the few others I know who’s not only very gifted as a filmmaker (not to be "that guy" but if we’re being honest, not all "filmmakers" in the super indie realm churn out stuff of quality), but is incredibly resourceful and driven, and consistently gets stuff made. Getting a film made is hard enough; it’s even harder to make one that doesn’t totally suck. I like working with people who make good shit and don’t half ass their work. So working with P.J. just made sense.

P.J.: We didn’t jump right in to making a film together. Our true Genesis was during the period in which we were pushing our latest efforts A MIND BESIDE ITSELF and OBSOLESCENCE. The first time we actually got to see our films was during the May Day Film Festival in April of 2011. Jake and I walked away having won the Best Film award in our categories as well as a couple Best Actor awards. It was a sweet deal. To be honest when OBSOLESCENCE’s credit began to role I leaned over to Jake and said, ”you motherfucker, you made a better film than me!” Jakob’s modesty will get in the way, but I still believe that today. Almost immediately after that we premiered our films together at USI on May 13th at our Friday The 13th Double Feature event. The event was a great success. We spoke a lot on the phone about the genres we loved and the films we wanted to make. We spoke a lot about combining forces to create something. Nevertheless, this would not be realized until the early spring of 2012.

DLM: What was your experience co-writing the script for MY HORROR PROJECT?

P.J.: Originally we were going to work on a concept I came up with called KNIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, but that quickly got shelved when I conceived MY HORROR PROJECT while at work.

JAKE: P.J. came to me saying he had the idea for what he wanted to be his next film, and he wanted me to co-write it with him. So we dove in with him having a lot of what he wanted already mapped out. Mostly we sat down, outlined, and agreed "you’re going to write these parts, and I’m going to write this over here."

P.J.: I was always hesitant to co-write something, but Jake and I are good friends and we both are very visual. We know what we want when we go into a project, so putting our heads and our talents together to make this happen was very easy.

JAKE: Every writing day was a little different, depending on where we were in the script: he’d have an idea for a character that I would take to a different place in a certain scene, I’d write a scene that he’d piggyback off of and carry elements over into what happened next, he’d have an idea for a scene he wanted me to try writing, I’d have an idea of how a scene he wrote could go in a different direction, I’d tweak dialogue, he’d censor my language (apparently I swear a lot).

P.J.: Jakes loves cussing! I like it too, but I only wanted certain characters to have foul mouths. Much to his dismay I took a lot of the cussing out. But I left in a bunch of other genius dialogue that he wrote such as a line about “soul rape”. That was one of the first questions he asked me, “please tell me that you left in the “soul rape” stuff?” I did. It was a great line.

JAKE: For me it was a really laid back, enjoyable process. I’ve enjoyed other co-writing experiences in the past thoroughly, but this particular instance was probably the easiest, most hassle-free one I’ve had. It probably helps that P.J. and I tend to think a lot alike (whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate). So what we each individually wanted out of the script more often than not landed on the same page (…ha). We’d each individually write certain scenes and then pass them back to the other one, who would make suggestions or tweaks and then send it back, and then some of those changes stayed, some got reverted back to how they were (as both of us are über-opinionated). It was a lot of fun. Obviously we both just were striving to make the script the best it could be, and tell the most interesting, and frightening, tale that we could. I’m really proud of the story and characters we’ve crafted here.

DLM: Without giving too much away, can you give me some insight into the script & what type of film MHP is?

JAKE: MHP is a fresh spin on the whole found-footage shtick. It chronicles the process of a documentary being forged on the supposed hauntings and paranormal occurrences at a creepy house in a small town.

P.J.: An indie filmmaker that is a harsh skeptic rents a haunted home to document his experiences. His plans are to debunk the mythos of the “haunted house” for good. His Producers and the individuals he meets along the way have different plans.

JAKE: Along the way we get to encounter some (more than a little) fucked up individuals in some fucked up situations that sort of reinforce the notion of "yeah… this house is all sorts of bad stuff." It’s a lot of fun.

P.J.: I honestly feel that what Jake and I have written is a perfect marriage of supernatural thriller, body count mayhem and satirical self-aware horror. There are tons of pop-culture horror references for the seasoned veteran as well as enough brutal kills to keep gore hounds happy. There are really eccentric characters and a bit of mystery thrown into the mix. I don’t like making films that are straight “whatever” and Jake is the same way. Our films are chocked full of nuances and elements beneath the surface, MY HORROR PROJECT will be no different.

JAKE: One of the other elements that’s a blast, from a personal perspective, is that all the characters in the script are essentially us. In that, I mean P.J. and myself play producers of the film within the film, all the actors play characters that have their name, etc. We’re not exactly playing ourselves, but tweaked (for the sake of fun) characterizations of ourselves. So essentially we wrote a script where we’ll be making a movie ABOUT us making a movie (within the movie). For a filmmaker that’s kind of awesome. I really can’t wait to see what P.J. does with this thing when he directs it.

P.J.: So far the teaser trailer I made for the film has done really well online with nearly 1200 views in just under a month with some really great feedback. Considering the film isn’t even shot yet I’d say that’s pretty damn exciting. It’s been featured on multiple horror sites including a few of the big boys like Dread Central, Arrow In the Head and Horror-Movies.ca. As a matter of fact Horror-Movies said, “if the film can keep up that momentum, I will be very happy, found footage may be getting a bit stale, but there is obviously still some juice in the can.” With kudos like that so early on, what more could an indie filmmaker ask for?

DLM: Together or separate, what other projects do you currently have in the pipeline?

JAKE: As I mentioned, P.J. and I have several script ideas we’re currently bouncing back and forth, some of which we’ve started writing already, and are looking for other ways to team-up and collaborate (one of these projects may happen very soon, but it’s under wraps at the moment). My main focus is I’m currently in post-production on my second feature, a modernized Midwestern giallo titled THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH (which P.J. was an associate producer on, too), so keep an eye out for that one. I also recently directed a new short, BLOODY HOOKER BANG BANG: A LOVE STORY, which is due out later this year. I’m currently one of three directors/producers on THE BOOK OF DALLAS, a new web series written by Joe Atkinson which will be debuting online this fall; P.J.’s working on that slice of awesome as well. There’s other stuff in the pipeline, but we’ll cross those bridges later.

P.J.: Of course I’m in pre-production of MY HORROR PROJECT that I’m directing/co-writing. I’m hoping to have the final location locked in soon. I’m working on year two of The River City Festival of Films, which will be hosted by Kentucky Wesleyan College on Saturday, November 3rd as well as series 2 of The Indie Film Series, also taking place on the campus of KWC in the fall of this year. You can find out more about the festival at www.facebook.com/TRCFF. I just wrapped a cameo in THE BOOK OF DALLAS on top of my Associate Producer duties. I’m working on helping with a film oriented summer reading program at the Daviess County Public Library. Last year I was asked to be a special guest writer for a fall event called Voices of Elmwood, where we take someone of significance who has passed in our community and bring them back from the dead to tell their story. I wrote a pretty successful story last year and was asked back. I’ve got a great individual to tackle, so I’m pretty excited about it. My first serious effort HALLOWS EVE is headed back to the festival circuit and will be screening in Rockville Centre, NY at the Macabre Faire Film Festival presented by TwitchTwitch Productions. You can find out more by going to www.livingdeadmafia.com/macabre-faire-film-festival.html. And to top everything off Jake and I are also working on a super top secret horror anthology project. More about that later on.