Filmage-A-Trois: Zack Parker – By P.J. Starks and Jakob Bilinski

Welcome to Filmage-A-Trois, our own little sexy slice of indie film heaven. We’re indie filmmaker’s P.J. Starks (HALLOWS EVE, A MIND BESIDE ITSELF) and Jakob Bilinski (SHADE OF GREY, THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH) your tour guides through an unorthodox way of picking the brains of independent filmmakers from all over. What exactly is a filmage-a-trois you’re probably wondering? No, it’s not our attempt at three ways with other artists. It’s not as easy as you might think. So rather than suckering them into the sack, we’ve asked them to have a sit down. We’ve tasked ourselves with bringing youthe best and in some cases obscure filmmakers we’ve been privileged to call friends. To get right to the point of what makes their clocks tick and to see what kinds of film topics that get their gears turning. So put on a brain condom, cause we’re about to blow your sensory overload!

Independent filmmaker Zack Parker has truly become a master of his craft and we had the chance to sit down and pick his brain about rando topics as well as is filmography. As clever as we claim to be no one can tell his story as well as the Internet Movie Database. Here is Zack’s biography as told by IMDB:

A native of the Midwest, Zack Parker is originally from the small town of Richmond, Indiana where he began making films at age 11. Acquiring a deep passion and interest in film as he grew, Zack went on to study filmmaking at Ball State University in Muncie, IN and later at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA. Always returning to the Midwest to shoot his films. Inexchange marked the feature directorial debut for Parker in 2006, a film that went on to much critical acclaim in the horror world, including such horror staples as Fangoria Magazine and, and was subsequently released in 15 countries on DVD. Zack’s second feature Quench was released in October 2008 by Vanguard Cinema. Again garnering much critical praise, the film won the award for "Best Director of a Feature Film" at the New York International Independent Film Festival, as well as named "One of the Best Films of the Year!" by Rogue Cinema. Parker’s third feature, the perceptual thriller Scalene (2011), starring veteran character actress Margo Martindale, Hanna Hall, and Adam Scarimbolo was released internationally in 2012 by Gravitas Ventures and Breaking Glass Pictures. Winner of several awards, including the "Grand Jury Award for Best Feature" at Dances with Films in Los Angeles, the film went on to be deemed a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times and Filmmaker Magazine. Parker is currently in post-production on Proxy (2013), a European-style dramatic thriller starring Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins, Kristina Klebe, and Joe Swanberg.

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JB: Alright, Zack. You’ve consistently shown a strong progression in skill and managing of resources from one film to the next. Looking from Inexchange to Scalene, it barely even feels like we’re looking at the same filmmaker. Obviously you’re honing a style across your oeuvre, and your obvious influences work to your advantage in an homage-driven aesthetic. By that I mean it’s clear that you’re a filmmaker who loves film. Do you feel like you’re redefining/reinventing yourself as an auteur each time you start a production? If so, is it intentional, or just sort of a "whatever’s best for the project" sort of coincidence?

ZP: I’m certainly trying to apply everything I’ve learned up to that point when I’m starting a new film. I also feel like the way I work on set is changing each time I start something new. I used to get very bogged down with shot lists and storyboards. Now, I think this is something every beginning filmmaker should do. There is so much happening on a set, you need some kind of safety net. Especially if you’ve never really made a film before. But, as you start to work with more and more talented people, and also begin to gain some confidence in yourself, I think it is very good to allow yourself to be open on set. Something can happening in a performance, or in a space we are shooting in, that may change the way I was thinking about doing the scene. Or maybe the DP or an actor has a good idea. Putting you in a mindset to allow those things to happen can sometimes, and usually, result in something better.

PJ: What are the most rewarding aspects of independent filmmaking and what are the unfortunate pitfalls?

ZP: Well, the biggest benefit of independent filmmaking is definitely the freedom. You have no one to answer to. There are no excuses for not being able to make the film you want to make, the way you want to make it. Of course, this always means that if it doesn’t work, you have no one to blame but yourself.

The biggest downside to indie filmmaking comes when it’s finished, and that is marketing and promotion. Most filmmakers just do not have the funding and/or resources to properly promote their films, and get them in the public consciousness. Even a large amount of independent distributors severely lack the ability to get a film out there. So, essentially, I believe that in this digital age it is not very difficult to get a film made anymore. The really challenge comes in getting people to know it even exists.

JB: As a fan who enjoys collecting physical copies of films, limited editions and whatnot, I get a little sad at seeing the shift towards digital copies, iTunes, VOD, et al as a preferred means for consumers. I get that it feeds immediacy and that honestly that’s where a lot of films make their money these days. Do you feel that where things are now, it’s harder or easier for a filmmaker to get their work out there? Where do you see the trend shifting in coming years? Is it harder for a film to make a profit nowadays or easier with the digital norm?

ZP: My first film came out in the early DVD era. In fact, there was a real in depth discussion with the distributor whether we should have a VHS version or not. If enough people had switched over to DVD. Since then, I feel that the new technologies are making it easier to get indies out there. Shelf space at places like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Suncoast were very valuable, and very limited. It was hard to get your title in their stores. Places like iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and Cable On Demand make it much easier. There is no limitation of space anymore. There are also less overhead expenses, since you’re not manufacturing anything. I’ve been very lucky that each of my films have become more profitable than the last.

That being said, I am totally with you about wanting to keep Blu-rays and DVDs in the marketplace. I too am a collector, and I love having that tangible box and cover art on my shelf. And an even greater feeling in seeing your own film in those incarnations, especially in a store. Seeing a copy of SCALENE in Best Buy has been one of the highlights of my career so far. So, I’d love to see the discs stay, but I doubt it’s going to happen.

PJ: Is there a genre or subject matter that you’d like to tackle that you haven’t in your current and previous films? And do you think it’s important for filmmakers to travel out of their comfort zone & if so, why?

ZP: I think it’s interesting for filmmakers to go outside their comfort zone. It pushes you as a storyteller and certainly shows you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I am very interested in doing some kind of dark comedy someday. I am a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and I think that making a good comedy is one of the most difficult things a filmmaker can do. I’d also be very interested in making a sci-fi film, as well as a western at some point.

JB: When you’re an indie filmmaker doing so much of the work on a film, wearing multiple hats, I’ve found the process is almost inherently schizophrenic. I honestly think it’s a prerequisite that you be a little crazy to do this batshit thing we love to do. Normal people don’t want to do this. How do you deal with the balancing act, personally?

ZP: I’ve come to believe that wearing all those hats (writing, producing, directing, editing), is just what being a filmmaker is. They are all one job to me, intertwined, each directly affecting the other. When you’re writing, you’re actually producing; choosing locations, determining budget, even crewing to a certain extent. When you’re directing, you’re editing; choosing shots, setting a flow to the scene, deciding how is play and be covered, establishing tone and rhythm, etc. So, I don’t really feel its a matter of balancing them, it just seems like the natural way to do it.

PJ: A film studio comes to you with an out of the box idea and says we will provide you with the budget and cast you need to pull off a project for us, a big budget silent film. Who would star and what would it be about?

ZP: I think it would be interesting to do a story about early man over the course of several years in various areas of the planet. Kind of similar to QUEST FOR FIRE, but spread across several countries. Chronicling the slow evolution of man from basic mammal to forming tribes, tools, early communication, etc. Perhaps it’s not necessarily a silent film, but certainly no dialogue. I think someone like Michael C. Hall would have a good look for this.

JB: What intrigues you so much about playing on the dark side of the fence/what is interesting about it, to you? Also: why does so much misery happen involving people’s junk in a ZP film? Cause you’re sort of a contender for king of genital trauma.

ZP: I suppose I just find it more interesting to watch people going through some kind of emotional or psychological trauma. I think it’s the closet you can get to seeing true human nature. In a way, you see people for what they truly are when they are going through some kind of pain. Just seeing someone happy and content in a film, to me, is boring. There are no layers to it. As for the genital thing…no comment.

PJ: You’ve been making independent films for well over a decade now. As your films continue to grow in both budget and scale, what is the biggest difference you’ve experienced from when you started making films to where you are today?

ZP: Well the technology has certainly improved. I shot my first feature in 2001 on a Canon XL1, and I find that virtually unwatchable today. Personally, I’d think to think that I have a better comprehension now of both cinema and the language of cinema. What a certain shot or cut says to an audience, whether it be consciously or otherwise. You learn so much when you make a film, but I’ve also learned that you become aware of even more that you don’t know. I’ve learned that an independent filmmaker cannot just be a filmmaker. You have to be a writer, a producer, a salesman, an accountant, and a business(wo)man. I’m also working with much more skilled and experienced cast and crew with each film. Either new people I’ve met along the way or those that have evolved over the course of years working together. It’s exciting to work with people that are creative and know their shit. It forces you to up your game, and to be open to hearing good and potentially better ideas.

JB: One conversation I get into a lot is the debate on the relevance/merit of sequels and remakes. The whole "do something original" argument and how the system is weighted towards quick cash-grabs on pre-existing franchises. Of course, we all know there are no new ideas, but that doesn’t mean a certain story can’t be told in a fresh way by a new storyteller. I’m conditionally for/against remakes and sequels: I like it when I like it, hate it when I hate it. Basically: if it’s good, it’s good. Chime in on the debate. And also, what do you think is important when going forward with such a project, to make it a success (in terms of craft, not box-office results), or at the very least, to make it necessary?

ZP: I’m honestly kind of over the remake/sequel debate. I honestly couldn’t care less. Like everything else, some are good and some are bad. If it looks good, I’ll go see it. If it looks bad, I’ll still probably go see it because I try to see everything. There has always been a mixture of original and unoriginal content material in every artistic medium. As we just discussed earlier, there are more films being made and released now than ever before. If you look hard enough, there is something for everyone out there.

PJ: I’ve spoken to many filmmakers that are in awe of a particular film, an idea that made them say, " Damn that was a fantastic concept, I wish I had created that film." Is there a film that’s been released within the last 5 years where you wished you had been the creative force behind it?

ZP: I think that Lars Von Trier is one of the most interesting and innovative voices in cinema right now. Films like ANTICHRIST and MELANCHOLIA really spoke to me as a filmmaker and storyteller. There is just something about the way he shoots a film that feels right to me, almost comforting in a way. Of course, no one but him could have made those.

We wanted to thank Zack for being such a trooper and suffering through our unorthodox interview style. Check out Zack’s films, they can be found online or in your local rental store. Make sure you come back next month to check out more craziness from Jake and myself. We have more creative artists coming your way and more smart or stupid questions to ask. Remember that it’s always important to check yourself, because the last thing you want to do is rickity-wreck yourself.