In the world of independent film, there are a handful of people whose names you recognize, Lloyd Kaufman, Fred Olen Ray and Charles Band to name a few, but there are others out there who deserve that kind of attention too! One of them is Ron Ford. Since earning his Drama degree in 1980, Ron has been an active part of the theatre and independent film community. He’s an accomplished writer/director and a pretty good actor as well! Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to see several of Ron’s movies, which are reviewed in this and last issue of RC, and I was truly impressed and delighted! I had a chance recently to take a few minutes of Ron’s time to talk him about his career.
(Editor’s Note: Please see the addendum from Ron Ford at the bottom of this interview. It clarifies some statements he made during the interview that his crew from the movie Snake-Man deemed unfair. Ron agreed and sent the addendum to be added to the interview, which should clarify things.)
BM – You do it all, write, direct, act, even edit! Which do you prefer?
RF – The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is acting, but I prefer stage acting to screen. If I could live my entire life on stage in performance, in the moment, as they say, I would do it. However, I enjoy watching movies more than plays, and that is where my passion as an audience member has always been. The answer to your question is, I suppose, writing and directing as a dual duty. I have directed other people’s scripts before, and it just wasn’t as personally satisfying as bringing my own story to life. Consequently, the two scripts I have written but that I and didn’t direct (THE FEAR and VAMPIRE RESURRECTION) were both reworked by others and, in the case of VAMPIRE RESURRECTION, to the point that it made no sense anymore. I am a writer/director, period. My movie acting is generally a lark. I am an actor so I give myself roles, but usually I am far to immersed in making the movie to give it the attention it deserves. So I’m not really happy with any of my acting in my own movies.
BM – Your films are filled with humor, yet most of them seem to be in the horror genre. Have you ever thought about doing a straight-ahead comedy?
RF – Sure, if fact, I think HOLLYWOOD MORTUARY and THE CRAWLING BRAIN are all-out farces. Comedy is one of my strong points, I think. But in the low-end movie arena in which I normally work, the distributors want easily exploitable genres — horror, action, sex — or they don’t want them at all. Nobody wants a comedy without a name actor in the lead, and who can afford that? So I will occasionally make a comedy disguised as a horror film. Not to say that I am not a horror aficionado, though. I grow up on horror and I love the genre.
BM – Has your recent move to Washington State caused you any professional difficulties?
RF – Yes, the move was due to family considerations, my wife and I suddenly both had extremely ill parents here in Washington where we came from. So we moved back after much debate. Since then I have made only one movie, and it was a disastrous experience, working with crew people who had more heart and confidence than experience. I had turned my creative eye back to the theater, and been working as a stage actor here. I actually do get cast in paying productions here much more often than in LA, and now I am starting to direct theater here professionally. Right now I am directing DEATH PLAYS A ROLE for the Song Bird Theater in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, thirty miles east of us. However, things are turning around, movie-wise. I have been talking with Fred Olen Ray of American Independent Productions (Retromedia), and am developing a project for him. I can’t talk details on it, but I hope it will make me a viable filmmaker again, even this far from LA. Since my last disastrous venture with local crew people, I have hooked up with a local production company interested in breaking into feature movies. Philip Sondericker, who runs the company, is an excellent director of photography. So now I have the technical assistance I need to make salable features again.
BM – You’ve done quite a few movies with Randal Malone, is Randal just fun to work with?
RF – Yes, he is, and a very good friend. I love working with Randal. And say what you will about his acting talent, he is charismatic on the screen. It is difficult to take your eyes off him. Randal is loved by all who meet him, and he has some following from his work on MTV’s SINGLED OUT. Enough of a following that people have given me money to make movies for him to star in.
BM – You appear in most of your movies, is it hard to be both the director and an actor at the same time?
RF – With eight day shooting schedules and skeleton crews (the way I normally make movies) it’s almost impossible. As I said before, my acting in my own movies is just relying on technique because I don’t have time to prepare the role and get into it as deeply as I would like.
BM – I know it’s like picking among your children, but, of your movies, do you have a favorite?
RF – Easy. Dead Season. Then Crawling Brain. Then Hollywood Mortuary.
BM – Your production company is named Fat Free Features. How did you come up with that name?
RF – I don’t really remember, but I liked the triple alliteration, and the fact that is says we put all the money on the screen. There is not time or money for any "fat" (waste) in my movies. Also, I find the irony amusing because I’m such a chunky bastard.
BM – You’ve done some work for Full Moon, how is it working with Charles Band?
RF – The only thing I did for them is to write the unfortunate VAMPIRE RESURRECTION, which Denice Duff directed. Full Moon picked it up because of Duff’s association with their SUBSPECIES series, but that was long after it was done. I have never met Charles Band. I admire the early work of his father, however, to digress. I BURY THE LIVING and FACE OF FIRE are both excellent movies in my book.
BM – In Hollywood Mortuary, (one of my personal favorites, by the way) you have several big name guest appearances, Margaret O’Brien, Anita Page and Conrad Brooks to name a couple, what was it like working with these people?
RF – A hoot. Margaret is an old friend of Randal’s, that’s the only way we got an Academy Award-winning legend in the movie. She was a pure delight. Same thing with Anita, the last living great silent star. She is another friend of Randal’s, and a gracious, lovely woman full of great stories about Lon Chaney and Douglas Fairbanks and other silent screen greats. Conrad I have known for years. We’re old pals. He did it as a favor really. I think we gave him only fifty bucks.
BM – What’s next for Ron Ford and Fat Free Features?
RF – We shot the opening scene of the movie I am developing for Fred Olen Ray just last weekend. It came out beautifully. It was produced as a test to see if we can get the technical standard Fred requires. I think we succeeded beautifully, but Fred will be the ultimate judge of that. If he likes it, he will finance the project. Again, I can’t give away any story secrets or even a title, but it will be a serious horror film. Suspense is what I am going for this time; keep the tongue out of the cheek for a change.
(Addendum: Some of my crew members on Snake-Man have taken umbrage with my statement there that my crew had "more heart than experience." And rightfully so, as it sounds like I am blaming them for the disaster that was Snake-Man. There are many things to blame, foremost AFP the producers for sending us shoddy equipment to work with and expecting miracles. But ultimately the man to blame is the director who helmed the project. So for that I apologize and do take the blame. The lack of experience I referred to was that none of us had ever worked with 24P video before. It was not an aspersion on the competence of my crew. – Ron Ford)