Born and raised in Philadelphia, Phil Stevens has been making films since the age of 12, spending the majority of his life and energy producing his own original work. Most recently, he wrote, directed, and edited Frank Edge Jr., a dark journey into the mind of a soon-to-be murderer that can be viewed online at www.pstevensproductions.com.
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EI: The first thing that struck me about Frank Edge Jr. is its minimal dialog. It felt almost like a silent film to me. Was this your intention?
PS: It wasn’t completely intentional. I really just have no interest as a filmmaker in dialog, shooting dialog and writing dialog. Before anything; as corny as it sounds I used to paint and just draw comics. So I tend to be a very visual person. I like to see someone do something rather than say they’re going to do something for five minutes. To me it was fun and a greater challenge to do the whole minimalist approach because after making so many movies you need to find a way to keep yourself interested. You NEED to challenge yourself and experiment; otherwise you’re just doing the same gig over and over again.
Working on past projects before, we’d work hours on dialog, going through rehearsals and standing around trying to find and develop the characters through dialog. This time around I honestly didn’t want to stand around hours on end doing that. It can get boring and burn people out pretty fast. So I said “Fuck this, we’re doing this with less dialog as possible.” It’s fun, and it should be fun when you make these types of movies because you’re not being paid to do so. You never know where these movies end up in the long run.
So I guess this was kinda my experiment in film. This whole movie has been one giant experiment. It’s not a movie in any conventional form and I did realize the risk of alienating the audience with lack of dialog and less characterization but as a filmmaker I didn’t want to do something I’ve already done before. Even in editing there were more scenes of dialog and I kinda did a “Man, I don’t want to see all this blah blah blippity blah blah.” The point of dialog is to tell the audience the story, give insight into the characters themselves and the roles they play in the world you’ve created but I’d rather just see it. That was something I wanted to do with Frank. I just wanted to see it.
EI: Where did you develop the idea for Frank Edge Jr.? Is the titular character based on any particular real or fictional person?
PS: For a year I wrote scripts based around the fact I had a really cool abandoned house nearby to shoot in but at the same time knew that window of opportunity was getting smaller and smaller since the city would soon be coming in to tear the place down. I didn’t want to lose the chance to shoot in such a great location. From there, I just went on a writing frenzy trying to find something that would work with this house. Months passed with no solid results and I went back into the various drafts I had previously written through the course of that year and found the story of Frank.
Frank itself came from the image I had of a man sitting in a bathtub; all limbs gone with just the torso and head left with maybe one arm left holding a saw. Based off that image of a character’s final demise. I went back and created a story where a man goes through the slow process of removing his limbs bit by bit. To fit the budget, it was rewritten to be about a man alone in a house who engages in self mutilation and not so much about self amputation. I wanted to see someone cut themselves up for their own personal reasons and allow each time for it to get worse and worse and explore the reasons why they got worse.
That’s Frank, it all came about from a location, a budget and a general interest in seeing someone lose their mind behind closed doors in the worst possible way.
EI: I sensed a real ‘70s style to your film. Are you a fan of this era, and did you draw upon any particular films for inspiration?
PS: The whole 70’s stye to the movie came directly from the house we used as our main location and how it wasn’t touched for a decade or more. The place was just left rotting in this disgusting 70’s look. There was no set dressing, what you see is very much what you get. For some reason, I’m not a fan of technology in films. I like the bare minimums and like to keep everything raw. I think in visuals. I think VHS tapes visually look better than DVDs and dial phones better than cell phones. Dull colors VS the shiny and new. There’s a vibe that goes with the dull and old that works very well with Frank.
EI: Do you storyboard your shots?
PS: I do not story board my shots because I like to roam around an area with the camera and allow my eye to catch something and then build a scene or camera set up around it. I’m a fan of photography. It’s very much like that guy who you’ll always find in the park who roams around aimlessly with camera, taking pictures. What ever looks nice to the shot or scene, just works. For this movie it worked better to just find shots at the locations.
EI: The soundtrack is such a big part of Frank Edge Jr. Was this composed before, during, or after production?
PS: The soundtrack was composed after production and during the time I was doing the post production audio portion of the editing. There’s a great website called Versus Media which brings filmmakers and musicians together with common goals of just getting their work out there by name and credit.
90% of the music in Frank came from Kevin Krier whom really glued this whole thing together for me by scoring beat for beat to the scenes and worked with me very closely. It was a great experience to have Kevin do an entire film score from a few states away. That whole process was helped by sending out the raw cut of the movie in a compressed video file to all three composers (Kevin, Alexander Quinn and Cameron Twomey) and getting mp3’s back in return to work with in the editing suite. To their credit, they did it for free and provided me with fantastic results.
EI: Frank Edge Jr. contains several scenes involving characters watching snuff films. How did you approach creating this footage?
PS: All the snuff footage came from deleted scenes and outtake footage to previous movies I’ve worked on; some dating back almost 6 years. These little shots and sequences were things I never wanted to just bury and let be forgotten. So I found a way to work them into the movie and build a story on them. It’s pretty cut and dry. I end up shooting a few obscure scenes in all my movies and sometimes they just don’t make the cut. The snuff was just a mass build up of that kinda junk that needed to get out.
EI: What are some of the challenges of editing your own film?
PS: I’ve been editing for years now and I gotta say the biggest challenge that I never look forward to doing is physically taking the countless hours of footage and slowly condensing it to, Could-be used, want-to-be used and need-to be used. Just one giant time consuming process of elimination because once you know what you’re working with, editing is rather easy. The only other snag in editing your own film is that you tend to become fond of certain takes or angles that you kill yourself for hours over trying to get them to work into the movie. When you’re shooting in horrible conditions you kind of hope that what you’re shooting will make it’s way into the final edit and when it comes back in post production and you realize it needs to get cut. It’s somewhat depressing.
Finding the pace to your own film is somewhat of challenge. Movies when you get to hacking at them, have this strange way of taking on their own life and follow their own pace which you cut accordingly to. Finding that pace can be a bitch because it ultimately becomes you’re guiding light and pretty much tells you what scenes or shots need to go and which need to stay. It had become important for me now to know when to NOT fight against the great unseen movie life-form you’ve created in editing.
EI: What are some of your long-term goals as a screenwriter and director?
PS: I’m already doing what I set out to do. Creating something from nothing. I’m making the movies I want to make and I hope that I can continue to do so as the years go on. Sure, I’d love to work with an actual budget one day but it won’t necessary make a better movie. Making movies is my life line. I hope that my movies find some kind of audience and can be appreciated for what they are. Being able to share my work with other filmmakers or fans of these types of films is enough for me. Whether they be enjoyed on a computer screen, on a tiny TV in someone’s basement or in a theater, that’s all I can ask for.
EI: Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?
PS: Nazi’s and necrophilia! I don’t know. I flip flop from script to script seeing as though I believe I may have some form of creative a.d.d.
EI: Where and when can readers see Frank Edge Jr.?
PS: The movie is viewable on my website at www.pstevensproductions.com in the FRANK EDGE JR section.