The Merit of Bad Cinema

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As the clock struck twelve on New Years Eve, the blood ran cold through my veins. My stomach tightened into a knot so tense that I could barely finish my glass of six dollar champagne without feeling like I would spew vomit all over my girlfriend. It was New Year’s Eve, and we had decided to get drunk alone out of exhaustion of going to parties and our shared social anxiety issues. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the fact that another year had been set upon us to painfully endure that made me nauseous, nor was it the disgustingly sweet champagne I had bought on sale at the suggestion of the local wino who hung outside of the liquor store urinating himself in sweatpants, but that our upcoming feature length horror film, Satan, Hold My Hand, which has been in pre-production for over a year was almost ready to begin principal photography. Not only that, but our budget was still stuck strictly under the $50 mark and we had a cast of close too 20 stark-raving mad lunatics ready for their chance at underground superstardom. To make matters worse, we still didn’t even have a camera to shoot on and our studio editing system was about six years out of date. I finished my champagne with a chaser of whiskey and an Ambien and tried to forget about this whole mess. When I woke up, the year was 2013. Nothing had changed. With my hangover lingering, I moaned and groaned in bed thinking that the nightmare was real. I was in fact to direct a feature film in just a few weeks.

Now that I have had a few moments to take a cold shower, have a smoke and pop a few tranquilizers, allow me to explain. I am speaking as the Co-Founder of ASS Studios, the micro-budget production company founded by myself and Reverend Jen, which we like to call the “Most underfunded Motion Picture Studio” in New York City. If you’ve never heard of us, I don’t blame you. This would most likely be because we have never created a film for over twenty bucks, have a publicity budget equivalent to the value of redeeming four cans of Budweiser, and make films called The Bitches of Bowery and Killer Unicorn. If you have, and that would be a surprise to any of us, it’s probably because you found yourself located at a screening at your local crack den, dive bar, or basement dungeon.

Yet, believe it or not, we have reached some minor success (gasp!) and our no-budget atrocities such as The Sinful Bitches have gained us, among other interesting things, some of the creepiest fans you could ever imagine. And don’t get us wrong, we consider this a good thing. Our work was released late April on DVD and continues to screen monthly at various venues in and around New York City. We pride ourselves on our no-budget work, love to see people walk out of the screening either in hysterics or shock, and it only made sense that after a year-and-a-half of becoming what seemed to be one of the more controversial independent film “companies” β€” I use that term loosely (even Amazon refused to stock our DVD upon its release) β€” that it was time to throw together a feature. Because both Rev and I share an obsessed with horror films, especially ones from the early ’80s that feature Linda Blair with a perm, some jean jackets, annoying stereotypical jock and stoner characters, bad special effects, and synth based soundtracks, it just made sense that we make a horror film.

At first toying with the title Satan’s Bitches, we quickly agreed that by having the word “Bitches” in the title, we would severely limit our chances of mainstream superstardom. Perhaps the most reasonable thought during this entire escapade, though our catalogue does in fact include titles such as Waltz of the Bitches, The Bitches of Bowery, The Sinful Bitches and the forthcoming Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space. After minutes upon minutes of dabbling with title ideas, Satan, Hold My Hand was offered up by our local bartender Matt, who then poured us a few stiff drinks after we shook on it. Film students, you taking notes? This is pure gold material kids!

After consulting some of the worst films we could find, (and coming from a guy who thinks Bloodstalkers should be on the AFI 100 list, that’s pretty insane) Rev threw together a script utilizing all the cheesiness we loved so much about horror films. Hell, if we had the money and power to make The Exorcist we would (though it would still look like a pre-school production of the original), but with a broken Hi8 video camera and about enough money in our budget for three beers each, we were looking more in Joe D’Amato territory – and that was OK with us! After casting our regular group of Art Star performers to play each role, including Faceboy, who has starred in nearly every single one of our earlier films, we launched into pre-production. This simply meant, we announced it on Facebook, told our friends they needed to be in it and then sat on the idea as if it would age better with time like a fine wine. Unfortunately, due to soul-crippling depression, day-job interference, and countless drug and alcohol-induced moments of insanity, our so-called “pre-production” came to a quick halt. With our cast eagerly awaiting our first shooting date, it seemed that we couldn’t get a step beyond this stage with our project. Satan, Hold My Hand just needed a boost – but what was it? Did we need to sell our souls to the dark lord himself?

Now this point is of most interest to me, as it is a moment that it seems most film schools skip in their curriculum. During my short time in film school, it seemed to me that this stage is one that is rarely spoken of, yet is one of the most important parts about being a Filmmaker. Sure it is easier now with social networking, blogging, and the like, but trying to move from the creation of an idea to bringing that idea into fruition has also been an utmost challenge to me as an artist. Perhaps it’s easier for others, or maybe the alcohol has just finally killed off every working cell in my brain.

While I have always been a “prolific” filmmaker, it seems that when it comes down to having a finished script in front of me, I panic. Perhaps intimidation of a larger project. I enjoy “one-off” films the most – shooting without a script in an afternoon, letting the actors do what they want and in the editing room, creating something I can be happy with. With each page in a script, I see money lost. Money I don’t have. I see time wasted. Mine and the others involved. I see people angry at me for not being a good director. I see relationships ruined, friendships lost and hatred brewing. Bitter arguments, fist fights and grudges held. We’ve heard and seen it all before. The “big” project that becomes a failure before it even gets off the ground. However, I knew I had to just close my eyes and pray for the best. After all, I had a great screenplay in front of me and a cast and crew built entirely of close friends and extremely talented individuals. What more could one ask for? Wait, don’t answer that.

Finally, one night, after watching the Linda Blair David Hasselhoff vehicle Witchery with Rev, something finally snapped. And it wasn’t our sanity, which had obviously been put to the test by the, how shall I put this politely, “sub-par” acting? It was the fact that we were sitting on a gold-mine of a script, a bunch of talent and yet, we were not in the midst of making Satan, Hold My Hand! What the hell was going on?

“You know Jen, let’s just do it! Let’s make this fucking film! Enough is enough!” She looked at me in a confused state, most likely because I had awoken her from a dead sleep and she was still caught in a dream state of mind. Most likely dreaming of Witchery. Not to say Witchery was a milestone in my life, but watching the Hoff rush around fighting witches certainly did certainly leave a profound indent in my brain. If this film could be made, why the hell couldn’t ours? I guess bad movies do in fact have some merit! (No offense Witchery fans)

We woke up the next morning, and began eagerly sending out the screenplay seeking a producer – as both of us had grown tired of self-producing all these months. We needed a stepping stone, a burst of light, a support group and most likely rehab – but at the time, “Producer” seemed a more appropriate role to find. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to convince our friend Jonathan Ames, writer and creator of HBO’s Bored to Death (who we paid homage to in The Sinful Bitches earlier) to step in and fill the role. At first he was rightfully hesitant, but after reading over the screenplay, he reluctantly agreed and signed on to the project much to our surprise and excitement. Hopefully he will also agree to bail us out of jail if that time should come. After all, what are producers for anyway?

The story, which revolves around a bumbling group of stoner-hippy satanists who kidnap two innocent Catholic schoolgirls and have their way with them, was the perfect fit for our insane cast and after much begging, threats and blackmail, we secured a video camera to shoot on. Between our new equipment and a talented group who will no doubt boost the film up a couple stars instantly, even if that means from zero to one and a half, our anxiety eased up a bit.

With the production just about to take place, and all of us are already busy working on our Oscar acceptance speeches, the butterflies in our stomaches still continue to flutter. With contracts signed, million dollar contracts that is, but to be paid over the course of two hundred years of course, Satan, Hold My Hand is finally set in stone! And we at ASS Studios made a vow to the world that after all this wasted time, we will make something that will be burnt into the audiences’ brain for eternity – whether they like it or not! Yes, there will be blood. Yes, there will be sex. Yes, there will be soul sucking, brain washing, head spinning, vomit inducing, Ouija board riffing, blood shedding, pot smoking, and as many montage chase scenes as one can imagine. Hell, maybe a few Witchery homages too!

For when it came down for getting that final push, the inspiration to just pick up the script and go, I cannot thank anything more than bad cinema. Sure, I always want to make a “good film,” but in the long run, if my trash-terpiece can be stocked on the same shelves as Lunchmeat and enjoyed by a crowd of beer swilling, stoner slackers, I’ve done my job. After all, that’s how I found out about all the films that inspired me as a kid. I recall reading Werner Herzog once claiming that one should study bad films in order to realize what ‘not’ to do when making their own film and I have to agree. Though I must admit, I have always had a soft spot for the bad moments. With that said, see you on the red carpet… and I’m talking about the dirty, dingy, blood stained red carpet in my apartment building of course!

(Satan, Hold My Hand is to begin production on January 7th in various locations of the Lower East Side of New York City. The film will be directed by Courtney Fathom Sell based off of a screenplay by Reverend Jen and Produced by Jonathan Ames, Sell, and Reverend Jen. The film will feature Faceboy, Robert Prichard, Reverend Jen, Scooter Pie, Fem Appeal, Amanda Whip and many others. To follow the progress of the film, please visit ASSstudios.tumblr.com)