An Interview with Paul Busetti – By Josh Samford

Paul Busetti is a young filmmaker whose work we have covered here on Rogue Cinema before in the past and I personally have a high degree of respect for his talents. I interviewed him not too long ago when he was promoting his short feature Cannibal Cheerleader Camp, which despite its title wasn’t nearly as shocking or silly as it may have sounded. An intelligent filmmaker and one who intends to press buttons, his work is creative and well written in such a way that one can’t help but imagine bigger and better things coming from the director. With his next production being fleshed out presently, we took some time to catch up with Paul and see precisely what we can expect from him.

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Rogue Cinema: Hi Paul, I know we’ve done this before, but for those of you who maybe missed the reviews and the previous interview, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Absolutely. I’m 28 years old and live in New York City with my beautiful wife and bunny rabbit. When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut but I changed my mind after the scene in Superman II where the Kryptonian criminals escape from the Phantom Zone and murder the astronauts on the moon. I worked at a video store for 6 years and that’s where my interest in film turned into a full blown obsession. I never liked classrooms, so in 2004 I eschewed film school to found Ten Sundays Productions and began churning out my own short films. On many film sets, people are bored and there’s so much wasted time. money, and talent. We try and inject some energy and danger back into the filmmaking process. We use small crews and dedicated actors who are all personally invested in the films. We’ve produced numerous short films and features over the years and have no plans to stop anytime soon. Some of my influences include Cronenberg, Dario Argento, Polanksi. Scorsese, Godard, and John Carpenter.

Rogue Cinema: What have you been up to since the last time we talked to you?

Besides writing the script for “Dysphonia”, I also adapted by own short film “Antidote Seven” into a feature length script titled “Panacea” which I’m really excited about. We supported the comedy “Boxing Day” on the festival circuit where it received great reviews and won some heavy awards. Last summer, (Ten Sundays Productions co-founder) Ian Albetski and I were producers on “Conquering The Rose” which is a drama about a small college town dealing with the aftermath of a young dance student’s suicide. Ian and I are currently co-writing the horror film “Veil” which we’d like to do while waiting for the financing on “Dysphonia”. Apart from filmmaking, I learned how to do a Rubik’s cube in under 4 minutes, got some more tattoos, traveled to Mexico, finally watched “The Wire”, and started a tradition of weekly linguine dinners and Italian horror movies with my wife.

Rogue Cinema: Would you describe yourself as a genre-filmmaker? Cannibal Cheerleader Camp certainly showed some talent in that area and Abraham Lincoln showed a diverse taste as well. Do you hope to continue exploring the depths of genre filmmaking?

Genre films are certainly the ones I enjoy writing the most. I think it would be fun to be a hack writer for direct to video exploitation movies. It just seems to be more honest in the intention of entertaining the audience and making something memorable. My favorite subgenres are the “clearly evil woman infiltrates the perfect family and wreaks havoc.” movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Orphan, Poison Ivy, and Devil in the Flesh. Also, I’m an atheist (12 years of Catholic school) but I love psuedo-religious horror films like The Omen, The Seventh Sign, The Church, and The Devil’s Advocate. The majority of the projects I’m working on at the moment could be describes as genre films but I definitely want to be a filmmaker who makes smart genre films. There’s a term going around called “Art Grindhouse” and I think that sums it up perfectly. Directors like Polanksi, Cronenberg, and Verhoeven are capable of making very respected films that are also shocking and violent.

Rogue Cinema: Interesting. Going back to "Dysphonia", what can you tell us about the project?

Dysphonia is a feature length horror film script centered on the relationship between identical twin sisters Samantha & Sophie and Beth, a mute girl they hold responsible for the dissolution of their family. Reuniting after years apart, the twins plot to have her committed to the psychiatric hospital where they work alongside an equally sadistic doctor. Beth is a shy, quiet girl who believes, like many people, that bad things only happen to other people and that violence is something she can avoid. However, evil does enter her life in the form of the twins and she must abandon her pacifistic nature in order to fight for her life. It’s influenced by revenge films like Ms. 45 and Kill Bill, Italian horror movies, and the Manson girls. I’ve been describing it as a dark fairy tale. Fairy tales are full of innocent virgins and princesses being locked away by wicked witches. Beth is essentially locked in a dungeon when she is committed to the hospital but there is no prince to save here. She has to save herself. Whenever a filmmaker (whether it’s Argento, Hitchcock, etc) places a woman in peril, he is immediately called a misogynist, but they are put in that position to confront their fears and defeat the monster. The fact is that women in horror are some of the strongest, bravest, and most resourceful characters in modern fiction (Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Ripley in Alien for example). I wrote the bulk of it in Spring 2009 and I knew early on that because of the scope and the amount of characters and locations, it couldn’t be done as cheaply as our previous projects. It was also going to take some serious bread and the perfect mix of people to make it work. I spent the last 2 years sharpening the script and worked with different artists on conceptual art for some of the major scenes. The artwork was intended to help potential investors or cast to visualize the different characters and the world they inhabit. If someone said “no” to it, I’ll know they’re not the right person to be in bed with.

Rogue Cinema: Dysphonia is a rather obscure medical term, it kind of hints at some background research for the film, where did the title come from and how was it chosen?

I came across the word while researching the condition of being born mute and other speech disorders. Aphonia is the permanent inability to speak whereas Dysphonia is temporary. The title refers to the fact that while Beth’s voice is lost, the ability to be strong and defend herself can still be found.

Rogue Cinema: Now that the teaser trailer is online, what can you tell me about its making? Were the twins real twins?

I knew I wanted to film a teaser as a way of attracting people to the film and get them curious to read the script. Everyone agreed it had to involve the twins because they’re a huge part of the story and it would be crazy not to exploit the obvious attraction of two beautiful evil identical twin sisters. Originally, I was going to film the opening scene which deals with Samantha & Sophie as young children, however, that was dismissed because I didn’t want people to think it was about evil children (another subgenre I love, which Orphan can qualify in as well). Instead I chose a scene that takes place in the middle of the script without dialogue that shows the twins at their most calm and cruel. The fire, the pristine white nurse uniforms, the blood, the matching nail polish and lipstick. It’s all carefully chosen to give the scene a specific feel. All those details are important in placing the viewer (or reader) into that fairy tale world. We filmed the scene on a cold February night in Haymarket, VA. Samantha & Sophie were played by model Riane Beth Hoffman and trick photography and a double was used to give the appearance of twins. (Cinematographer) John Michael Whalen had responded enthusiastically after reading the script and it was a no-brainer to ask him to lens it. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be able to act as cinematographer on Dysphonia and I thought I should get used to the idea of working closely with someone else. The scene stayed very close to how it was storyboarded, but John was able to light the scene in the most beautiful way and it gave me the leeway to work with the actresses. The remainder of the crew was comprised of people I’d worked with before and a few people I can’t wait to work with again. The scene was shot with the Nikon D7000 DSLR camera with prime Nikkor lenses. It was cut down in VA and then I did the sound design up here in NYC. We released it in early April and the response from fans and from the indie film and horror community has been really amazing.

Rogue Cinema: The visual quality and focus of the film certainly comes across in this teaser, can we expect a cinematography tour-de-force when Dysphonia is released?

Film is first a visual medium and filmmakers forget that sometimes. That doesn’t mean style over substance. It doesn’t mean glossy or flashy. It just means that you’re telling your story in a way where every visual decision (or lack thereof) matters. I’ve been fortunate that even on ultra low budget productions (sub $1K budget), we’ve been able to give the films a look that hopefully separates them from other low budget films. A cheap movie doesn’t give you the excuse to be sloppy and not give a damn. When we shoot Dysphonia, the cinematography and production design are going to be extremely important. There is going to be a juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness in the characters and their actions. As a character, Beth is all about simplicity and natural beauty and her look and environment will reflect that. But once she is in the psychiatric hospital, which is the twins’ realm, the film will take on a more surreal look. As in the teaser, the way colors are controlled will be very important. I want it to look like Harris Savides shot a Lucio Fuci movie. That’s why I feel the conceptual artwork was so important. I know that when people see these sketches and they look at the teaser, they’ll get a better idea of the visuals we’re going for.

Rogue Cinema: What kind of budget are you looking to attain for the film and how long will the shoot be?

To do this film right, it’s going to cost in the neighborhood of $200K and I think it would be possible in a 4 week schedule.

Rogue Cinema: Do you already have a cast in place?

We haven’t begun casting yet, but I’m going to be getting the script to some people very soon.

Rogue Cinema: The last time we talked, you referred to the project as a "bloodbath", what can viewers expect from the film in terms of violence?

The script is violent, but it’s not an exercise in trying to nauseate the audience. The scariest horror films are about our own fears. When violence gets too extreme, people can’t relate anymore. Everyone knows how it feels to get a bad paper cut or to slam their hand in a door. Psycho works because everyone has to go take a shower. Blair Witch works because everyone is scared of being in the woods at night. The key is to show the violence in a way so it affects people on a primal level. That being said, fans of gore and graphic horror will not be disappointed. The manner in which characters are dispatched was not written to be “implied” or ”off screen”. Not to give anything away, but the climax could only be described as a bloodbath.

Rogue Cinema: Ultimately, what are your goals with Dysphonia and why should the audience be excited for it?

I’ve been working on this for years and I plan to be working on it for as long as it takes to get it made. I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t think it was something special. The goal is to make a new classic American horror film. I want Beth to be a classic female heroine and I want the twins to be classic villains. This is not a film populated with characters whose sole purpose is to get killed. You will be surprised with who lives and dies. Audiences should be excited to see it because it’s not a swindle. Horror fans get swindled all the time because they love the genre and constantly want more of what they love. They are optimistic and want to believe that each new film could be the next great one. Audiences are fed up with sequels, remakes and reboots. It’s time for something new. This film is not me looking at what was #1 at the box office last weekend and trying to emulate that. I’m not trying to capitalize on a trend. I’m trying to fill a gap. I want to make the movie that doesn’t exist yet.

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We’d like to thank Paul for sitting down and talking about his latest project with us. If you’re interested in learning more you can read about the project at: http://www.tensundays.com/dysphonia.html and if you want to see the Dysphonia teaser for yourself, check the link and give it a go! http://vimeo.com/21437480