An Interview with Phil Herman – By Brian Morton

When you think of independent cinema, you rarely have to look far for someone who has a script and a camera and are planning to be the next big thing in Hollywood, these people are a dime a dozen. But the people who I truly admire, are the people who have been making movies for years, with a small audience who watch them, but they keep writing, producing, directing and editing their own movies, not because their dream is to hit the big time (although most of them wouldn’t turn down the chance!), but because they have an honest to God passion for telling stories and making movies. One of these people is Phil Herman. Phil has been making movies for so long, he probably can’t remember a time when he wasn’t behind a camera or writing his next movie. In the past couple of months, Rogue Cinema has reviewed a few of Phil’s movies, Jacker 2: Descent To Hell, Tales Till The End and Always Midnight among them, so we thought it would be interesting to sit down and see what drives Phil to make movies, where he gets some of his ideas and what’s next for this prolific independent filmmaker.

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 BM – Thanks for taking the time, I appreciate it.

PH – Thanks for having me.

BM – You’ve been making movies since you were 14, what made you want to make movies when other kids were just watching them?

PH – I had a love of movies ever since I was little. I used to write scripts and a friend of mine had a super 8 camera. We would make them but had no sound or way to edit them. But I got the bug after seeing those simple movies on the screen. That is when I received my first video camera. It was winter so I was limited on what I could do but I was preparing for what would become a long journey. That summer no one in the neighborhood was safe and everyone was being killed and chased through out the neighborhood. It was all in good fun and had everyone hooked. At the beginning I used to make a movie a week. The Only was shot and edited within 7 days. Wow those were the days!

BM – Your movies are either horror movies, or have horror themes in them, are you a horror fan?

PH – I am a big horror fan. I like being scared in the movies. There is nothing better then going to a big dark room with strangers and being scared. That is why I was so happy that horror movies made a comeback in the theaters. What better way to spend an evening then with your girl at a horror show.

BM – Who are your influences in the horror genre?

PH – My biggest inspirations were Carpenter and Romero. Halloween was what got me to say, wow I can do that. I can never repeat the shock and staying power Halloween had, but John Carpenter’s vision of filmmaking has stayed with me to this day. I always like indie films cause they do it their way and don’t have big studios breathing down there necks. I have stayed so long making indie movies because of the independence and having no restrictions on material or content.

BM -I read a quote from you that said, "I always say the worst movie a B maker can make, is better than any Hollywood A list production." I found that interesting, could you explain it to our readers?

PH – Sure. Because B movies are done the way the filmmaker wants them done, not being controlled by some studio. If we want to show a person get sliced from head to toe and show it in every gory detail we will. We have no MPAA or studio heads that say you can’t do that. It is what the filmmaker wants and he does it. The majority of the time the guy making the movie is the writer, director and editor, so his vision is what you’re seeing, unhampered. We make movies that the fans want to see and don’t bend under any type of pressure. We’re as sick and realistic as we can be.

BM – You seem to work with many of the same people, are these all friends that started with you when you were young, or are they people who have made movies with you and just stayed on as part of your troupe?

PH – The majority of the people that have stuck with me and still make movies with me are people that became friends when making the movies. Mr. Joel D. Wynkoop is the biggest contributor and talent that I have working with me. We have worked on a 1/2 dozen movies together and can work on projects and get them completed in record time. The reason being, we think alike and have the same goals, to make a movie that will sell and to please our audience. These movies have a lot put into them and usually are not big moneymakers. Why do we do it? Cause we love making movies. The only one from my original crew left is Barry Gaines. He is a collaborator on all my projects and he restricts me on what I can do and what I shouldn’t do. My favorite actress, Nancy Feliciano, is still with me after many retirements and threats to leave the business. She has our biggest fan base and is the only one that gets requests and fan mail. She is a large reason we’re still making movies and we really appreciate her efforts and contributions to this company!

 BM – You play Mike Rivers in the Jacker movies. Where did the idea for the movies, and Mike Rivers in particular, come from?

PH – Straight out of the headlines. There was a growing trend in carjacking at the time we were thinking of a new movie. I was reading the paper and there was like an epidemic of jackings. We never heard of that before. I said hey let’s make a movie about that. A guy who hates society and torments everyone tracking him. He is ruthless and uncaring. It became our most memorable movie and people always associate me with Mike. What is scarier then a serial killer attacking people just driving their car? For No Reason! Doesn’t discriminate against color, sex, age, no one is safe!

BM – Will there be a Jacker 3?

PH – There is a script and a friend of mine who is also a film maker (Ryan Cavalline) every week for the last 10 years has told me bring Jacker back. Those movies are very costly and time consuming and I can’t find the time to assemble a cast and crew to do it. I am always hoping a studio will approach me to not do a sequel but a remake. Anyone listening? Plus to make a 3 would take a miracle it has been a few years since the last one and everyone has moved that was involved. Unless I take a whole new direction with all new characters it will be very hard to do!

BM – You seem to really relish the role of Mike Rivers, is it fun to play the bad guy?

PH – I love playing the villain. It was a fluke that I took the role. The person who was supposed to play it bowed out. I had written the story in 2 days and made the movie in 3 weeks. We filmed every night and day for 3 weeks. In those days we had no families or real jobs so all we did was film. When I stepped into the role I became the Jacker, it was great. I was able to really extend my range and go all out. I was a little inspired by Freddy Krueger but this guy was real. We had to make him sick and for the audience to say, wow, this guy really is sick and crazy. We tried to make it so everyone hated him, but he was so realistic and over the top (Especially in Part 2) that people were rooting for him at screenings.

BM – The ‘Midnight’ series and ‘Tales Till The End’ are both anthologies. What’s the difference in making an anthology, as opposed to a feature?

PH – A feature takes about a year because you have the same characters trying to tell one story. You have at least 90 minutes to do. So, at this level the actors and actresses are not getting paid a lot, if anything. So you have to wait for when they’re ready and adjust to their schedules. With Burglar From Hell, we were filming for 3 months and were 3/4 finished when one of the main actresses left the production because she was having a fling with her lead and his girl found out and it was a mess. She fled so we had to redo pretty much the whole movie because she was a key character and she was in almost every freaking scene! But it was for the better cause the new girl was even better and had better screen presence. Now an anthology can be done in a month. We made the three Midnight movies in almost a year. I wrote the main story and other film makers contributed shorts that were vampire related. It was a way to showcase all sorts of talents and different types of filmmakers. It was sort of a sampling of the best of the b-indies. My anthologies have done very well but I always looked at them as an easy way to get another movie out. I got in the rut of making anthologies because it was an easy way to get movies out. So after the last anthology I said no more.

 BM – You have Into The Woods in production, what can you tell us about that?

PH – After the anthologies I said it is time to make a feature again. I needed to get back in the game. I am the director, writer and actor in the movie. Into The Woods is about a girl, Danielle, who is stuck in a dead end relationship with a married man. It takes a turn for the worse when he leaves her and then comes back and brutality rapes her. She is an avid runner and has always run away from her fears and lack of a happy successful life. Her life, which has turned upside down, has just gotten worse. On one of her runs, she mysteriously turns up in a place unfamiliar with her. On a lonely stretch of beach near an equally desolate unrecognizable forest. Stripped of everything she wakes drugged and lost in the woods, with a few clues and constant torments. She runs from an unseen character that little by little reveals his intention and who he is. When she returns to reality, an explosive climax ties up all loose ends and conflicts. Into The Woods is a simple indie project. I usually make horror slasher type movies but this is more of a terror suspense type of movie. It depends on strong direction, and cinematography, and, of course a solid script and actors. The script has very few characters. Nancy Feliciano, Joel D.Wynkoop and Tiffany Sinclair will star in it. The shoot started early spring for probably 3 months on location in NY, we’re working for a fall release.

 BM – Most independent filmmakers biggest complaint is budget. How do you raise money for your films?

PH – I wing it! And beg, borrow and steal! And I have very good friends in the business that I barter with. It is all about I help you-you help me. Also the profits from the previous movies always make up the initial budget! So now you know what the budgets are.

BM – Dream productions. What would it be? Who would star?

PH – My dream production is to have one of my scripts named "Sheville" produced by a big studio. It would be nice to have one of my movies on the big screen. It is so hard wearing all these hats all the time and preparation that is put into a movie only to have a handful of people see it. I would like to get that one shot and see how it feels to have all those people working behind the scenes and scratching my ass for me while I just sit there and say action and cut. As for stars I always promised my people that I have made movies with over the years that if I go for the ride I will take as many of them as possible with me. So all those guys in my previous movies will be my dream cast. As a thank you and not just in words but action!

BM – Thanks for your time, Phil, I appreciate it and I know our readers do too.

PH – Thank you.

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There you have it, a truly independent filmmaker, who’s making movies not for the fame and glory, but because it’s his passion. You can check Phil’s movies out by heading over to the Falcon Video website. We here are Rogue Cinema appreciate Phil, and everyone out there, who keep making these great independent movies, and we can’t wait to see Into The Woods and anything else that Phil sends out way! Good Luck, Phil!