An Interview with Paul Solet – By Duane L. Martin

 Tell us who Paul Solet is on a personal level, not as a filmmaker. Where are you from, age, hobbies, etc…

I’m 26, and I’m from Cambridge, MA. I live in Hollywood, now, but I’m close with my family, even though they’re 3000 miles away. I’ve got a 2 year old niece who I’m crazy about. I live with two women, my girlfriend, Moira and my Doberman, Molly Millions. When I lived in Boston, I worked as a dog trainer and a bike messenger. 9 I’ve been a rabid movie buff for as long as I can remember. Filmmaking is such an all encompassing thing, it’s become a very big part of who I am personally. If you’re resistant to some kind of a union of personal and professional, I imagine you might have a tough time as filmmaker. If it’s something you really love, it just doesn’t feel like work, not to you at least. Sometimes it does to everyone else in your life, though. Regular people can’t understand it, they think we’re crazy. It’s funny, every once in a while, I’ll realize I’ve just thrown out some obscure film reference to a group of normal people, and they just look at you like, “Who’s Ralphus?” or, “What’s The New Flesh?” But when you’re around your own kind, you know it. Somebody passes out on a long shoot, and you say, “Somebody wake up Hicks,” and everybody gets exactly what you’re talking about.

You have a degree in film from Emerson College. How was your experience there and do you think that more independent filmmakers would benefit from going to film school? I’ve heard some people say that it’s not necessary and others say that it’s something that people should definitely do if they want to be filmmakers.

Emerson is a great school. I’d recommend film school if you can afford it, sure. It’s a safe place where you can make mistakes and figure out where your strengths are, but it’s only what you make of it. There are a whole lot of people who talk a lot of shit, but when their shot comes, and someone says, “Oh, what have you written?” or, “I’d love to check out your reel,” if they don’t have anything to show, that’s that. I’m yet to walk into a meeting out here and have someone say, “Oh, I’d love to see your diploma.” It’s not that it isn’t helpful having gone to a good film school. People know Emerson kids are typically pretty ambitious, and some of us come equipped with an East Coast work ethic that makes people’s heads spin, but once you have the job, if you’re not a hard worker, or if you pompous or arrogant, or not a team player, you just won’t get the next job, that’s all. A lot of my favorite people to work with didn’t go to film school, they were just motivated enough to walk through the fear of getting on set, making mistakes, and learning on the fly. There’s only so much of this that you can learn from a book.

When did you meet up with Jake Hamilton, and how long after that did you guys decide that you needed to team up?

I met Jake about two years ago. He was working on a script, and I had had a little more formal training with screenwriting, so we got together to talk about his project, and the questions he asked were really sharp. I could tell he was absorbing every little detail he was hearing. We had MEANS cooking not long after.

Which of you came up with the idea for Means to and End and how did you guys pull it all together despite being stationed on opposite sides of the country?

Actually, I was in Boston at the time, but I was heading out West in a few months. We liked the idea of the challenge of coming up with an idea and bringing it to fruition within a limited period of time, old school, gun and run, guerilla-style. The idea for MEANS was a co-creation. We’ve been asked who came up with certain ideas before, and there’s not much differentiating on that project. We did a lot of busting each other’s chops and pulling from caricatures of ourselves and some of the people we work with. I do know I came up with the ass-grating, but I volunteered Jake’s ass for it. Guess who’s ass ended up getting grated….

Which effect was the most fun for you to do in Means to an End? I think one of my personal favorites was the cheese grater skin slice in the shower. Also, which one was the most difficult to set up and make look right?

That whole shoot was a blast, we just massacred each other and laughed until we were sick. The cheese grater came out beautifully, yes, but that required me to shave my ass and then stand around naked in Jake’s parents’ house while layers and layers of my ass-latex were drying. We really only had one shot at that one, so it was certainly the most difficult to set up and get right. The whole process is actually on the screener in the extras. It’s called “Assshave”. That’s where the real horror is. I had a good time biting a chunk out of Jake’s arm, too, and the drill looks beautiful. When you’re working on the cheap like that, you get reacquainted with the effectiveness of the reaction shot.

Means to an End ended up on the Fangoria Blood Drive II DVD. How did that come about and what was you guys’ reaction when you found out it was being included?

To quote Ms. Vuckovic, we were pissing splinters. I came out of the womb toting a Fango, so that was just the ultimate honor to have Tony Timpone tell you he loves the movie and wants to distribute it. I actually didn’t find out myself until Eli Roth called me and told me we won. Obsessing about that stuff just makes me that much less useful on whatever I’m working on, so I always try to just do the footwork, get the thing entered where I think it’s most likely to find its audience, and then just let it go. The other films on there are pretty damn sharp, so getting to know some of the other filmmakers has been really cool. We united with Adam Barnick, who did MAINSTREAM, along with the rest of the East Coast Blood Pack, a crew of balls-out, hardcore East Coast horror filmmakers, which wouldn’t have happened without the win. Jay Alvino’s Wicked Effects team is doing effects on my new project, GRACE, and I met them through the Icons of Fright maniacs, also representatives of the Blood Pack, so that’s all thanks to the Blood Drive 2 win. We made MEANS with zero time, and zero budget, just to have some fun and raise a little hell, so having people really get it and respond so well to it has been such a cool surprise.

You guys were planning a feature version of Means to an End but that’s been put on the back burner for the moment. Is that something we’re definitely going to see eventually or is it basically at a point now where it’s just something you’d like to do down the road, but your attentions have been pulled elsewhere for now?

I banged out a first draft of a MEANS feature, which Jake is currently reworking. I’m full speed ahead with this new film, GRACE, which Jake will score. Even though we’re shooting the short first, the feature isn’t far behind, so, yeah, my attentions are divided at present, but that MEANS feature continues to percolate. Jake’s been doing a lot of work on it.

 You’re doing this Grace short now, which hasn’t actually started production yet. Tell us about that one and where you’re at in the pre-production process with it so far.

I’m thrilled about GRACE. I wrote a feature by the same name last year, and it got a lot of attention. We got offers to option it, but I know this thing will scar people for life, and I want to see it done right, so I decided to make it myself. I really believe in this project, so hearing some of the notes from people who wanted to pick up the script was pretty painful. I had a meeting at one point with a guy who was going to be attached to direct and he was just coming up with some of the most ridiculous shit, I thought he was joking at first, then I realized he was totally serious. It was straight out of THE PLAYER, “Okay, kid, so we stick in a devil worshipping subplot, ya know, like that Polanski movie, and make the car crash through a cult ceremony in the middle of the woods….” I had to let that go. I wrote a couple more features, then I started getting itchy to get back on set again, so I distilled a few scenes from the first act of the feature and turned it into a stand alone short. If we pushed it, we could’ve put enough money together to do the feature on the cheap, but like I said, this is really a pet project of mine, and I want to do it right. We’ve put together an amazing team for the short and we’re going to shoot it 35mm and push the production value to studio quality for seven and a half minutes. This is a movie that people won’t be able to forget, even if they want to. This team is fantastic, every department is remarkably tight, right down the line. I’ve got Laurence Avenet-Bradley doing cinematography, which is huge. She’s gotten awards for her work all over the world. And Becca Cutter, who took her last film to Sundance, is producing. We’ve got strong women up and down both sides of the camera, which is so important for a story like this.

I’ve read the script for the short of Grace and I must say that it sounds horrific, disgusting and utterly sick. So obviously it’s going to be really cool. Just from talking with you a bit, I get the feeling that this thing has become your baby (no pun intended). Which script did you write first, the short film version or the feature length version, and are you going to find it frustrating making a short of it first rather than just jumping straight into production on the feature length version?

Thanks a lot, man, I’m glad you dug the short. GRACE has definitely become my baby. Like I said, I wrote the feature first. I’m not frustrated at all making the short before the feature, I love the short format, and that seems to be something you get to do less and less of as things progress. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do the short first for a whole number of reasons. Already, going through the process of visualizing and boarding the short, I’ve gotten a much clearer sense of the tone of the project, its pace, and the story itself. As we move forward, I know I’ll get to know these characters even better, especially from the actors that play them, and that’ll probably continue right into post. On top of that, even though I’ve worked with most of the crew before, they haven’t all worked with each other, so this will give us all chance to get to know each other and trust each other and develop some group chops, before tackling the feature.

What reaction do you think people will have to the film? I mean, messing with a baby is kind of a taboo subject for many people. Do you think people will react badly to that?

Of course. I’m sure the usual folks will be upset. The idea makes my skin crawl, but that’s the point. When I first pitched the idea to Eli his jaw dropped. He’s not an easy person to disturb, so I knew I was on the right track. That’s what I grew up expecting from a horror movie, and that’s why I know we’ve got something really special, here. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get that visceral, “I can’t believe I’m seeing this,” feeling too often anymore when I watch horror movies. But that’s what we’ve got here. That said, I actually think the movie will speak a language that’s more accessible than you might think. GRACE has got a lot of themes that, no matter how disturbing they may be, are universally intriguing. Everybody knows a little something about the power of a mother’s will, and a whole lot of people know about losing family. Even those who haven’t lost anyone have that innate sense of dread that comes with the thought of it. This isn’t your average horror film. When the hairs on your neck go down, and you swallow the knot of terror in your throat, you’re going to take this movie home with you like a cancer.

How long do you think it will take you to finish production on the short and get it out there for people to see, and ideally, what sort of a time frame would you like to see between the release of the short and actually starting production on the feature length version?

I’ll have a final cut before the summer’s over. The short will give us a lot more flexibility as far as financing for the feature, but when we find the right fit, we’ll move forward. Right now, the best thing for the GRACE feature, is the GRACE short, so that’s the focus.

So far in your career, what’s been your proudest moment as a filmmaker, and what’s been your worst moment?

Getting picked up by Fangoria was pretty awesome. Some of the awards we’ve gotten have been really great, particularly because a lot of them came from festivals like Rhode Island International Horror Festival, and Dragon Con, where the programmers and festival goers are really serious fans. I’ve had some success with features that I wrote in some pretty difficult screenwriting contests and festivals, and that’s always a real thrill, because you’re talking about a whole lot of competition there. When Eli introduced me to Quentin Tarantino as an up and coming young filmmaker, I was soaring for days. I’ve been lucky enough not to have had a whole lot of miseries, but there have been some growing pains, for sure. My experience has definitely been that in order to grow at this stuff, you have to put yourself out there a lot, which makes you vulnerable to some humiliation and some fear. Every once and a while I get myself a nice humbling experience that reminds me I’ve still got a lot to learn. I just try to be grateful for the lessons, and focus on not repeating the same mistake twice.

Do you feel that most horror films are too lacking in gore and being made by filmmakers who are unwilling to put the time and effort into creating over the top gore effects?

I wouldn’t say that. There are times when gore’s appropriate, and times when it’s not, and it just takes you out of a story. When it is, and all you get is a screaming mouth, I feel cheated. I think you set yourself up for a lot of disappointment as a horror fan, though, if you don’t try your best to recognize that there are a whole slew of different subgenres, and they’ve all got there own specs. You don’t watch NEW YORK RIPPER for the story, and you don’t watch ROSEMARY’S BABY for the gore. When I watch those movies, I hold each to totally different standards and I fucking love them both.

Do you have a special blood recipe? I’ve heard of people using different ingredients in their blood to give it a more realistic look. Also, since you’ve made your own blood for your films, do you find yourself looking at the blood in other people’s films
with a more critical eye than you probably would normally?

I use pig’s blood or human blood. It’s easier to get than you think – Wait, did I say that or think that…? I look at everything with a more critical eye than I used to. I think that even though an audience can’t necessarily isolate exactly what it is that isn’t right about a scene, they can certainly feel it, and they take that home with them. Audiences are a lot more savvy than people think, especially horror audiences. I think all the little details in a film have a cumulative effect on an audience, even if they can’t articulate what they all are, so if you show a body that’s been buried for a hundred years, and there’s still some meat on his bones, or some shimmer to his blood, an audience feels that disbelief, even if no one consciously gets it. It’s a fine line with independent filmmaking, because you just can’t afford to get everything exactly the way it should be, so I’ve tried to learn to focus people’s attention away from those details, or find a way to write them out without compromising the story. What’s cool is that a lot of the time, you end up with a more interesting movie because of that because you don’t get to just take Option A every time. As for blood, I’ve been spending some time making sure the blood for GRACE is right. There are a number of different types we’re using – fresh blood, recently spilled but partially congealed blood, old, curdled, partially clotted blood, and a nice thin blood/brown urine mixture. Yum.

 Do you have anyone in particular you look up to as far as filmmakers or effects people? If so, what sorts of things have you learned from them?

I look up to a lot of guys. I watch a whole lot of foreign stuff, new and old. I love the 70’s Italian stuff for gore. I’m not big on ghost stuff, but there’s a ton of Asian shit that’s just mind blowing. Miike’s fucking amazing, and Korea’s got some pretty awesome stuff coming out, too. Chan Wook Park is fantastic. This Fruit Chan movie, DUMPLINGS is incredible. The stuff I grew up on is still my favorite stuff. Rob Botin’s THE THING effects, ALIENS, all the dozens of slasher flicks, REANIMATOR, MOTEL HELL, TCM. I love DEATHDREAM, I think that’s one of the most underrated horror movies ever. I’m a huge Cronenberg fan, too, especially the older stuff, like RABID and SHIVERS, and THE BROOD. I love body horror. David Lynch has always been a hero of mine. I find a lot of inspiration from the new generation of horror filmmakers, too, the guys in the trenches, now. Guillermo del Toro and Lucky McKee are awesome. Eli Roth has been a close friend and mentor since I was a kid, so he’s taught me a whole lot over the years. The best thing I ever learned from him, though, was that attitude is everything. I had been bitching about working a lot reality TV and he said, the guys who get the work are the guys who can stand in the pouring rain for forty days in a row yelling action and cut, and never complaining. I’ve learned a lot watching him stay grateful and humble as he’s had more and more success.

What do you find to be the hardest part of being a filmmaker?

I think probably staying balanced, learning not to let passion cross into obsession. In a lot of ways, filmmaking is totally conducive to mania, especially the whole never sleeping thing, but I think in the end, staying somewhat balanced is ideal. It’s really easy for me to get carried away and just forget everything else in the world for days, then I’ll come out of it and realize I’ve neglected to spend time with people I care about. I’m still learning. I’ve had to practice some acceptance with the idea of uncertainty, too. There are no sure things with filmmaking, so I just try to keep as many pokers in the fire as I can, in hopes that a few people get singed along the way.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who wants to get into making films?

I’ve just tried to get my hands dirty and keep them that way. Get on set as much as you can, doing whatever you can, and if you want to write, write every day. I’ve learned so much doing PA work, in the office, and on set. A lot of people come out of film school and expect to just roll into William Morris and get seven agents without paying any dues, and that’s really not a reality. Even when it appears to be, the kid’s probably been writing his ass off since he was five. It seems like most people who aren’t sure they want to do this, or want to do it for the wrong reasons, just burn out when they realize how hard you have to work. It’s been important for me to focus on making stuff that I want to see, stuff that I really love. People ask me what I do for fun when I’m not working, and that’s really a tough question. If I have free time, I just pick up another project. This is what I do for fun. The idea that I get to make a living doing this still blows my mind.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about before we wrap this up?

I think that’s it. Thanks so much for your support, it means a lot coming from real horror fiends. Sites like this keep horror in the hands of us fans, and that’s how we can keep this thing fresh. When we don’t like something, we’re always vocal about it, that’s never been a problem for horror fans, but when we find something we really like, I really believe we need to get behind it and spread the word with that same zeal. I’m just grateful my tastes fell to the deviant side of things, we’ve got such an awesome horror film community. Imagine if we felt this way about romantic comedies….