Tag Archives: Daniel Stamm

13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director)

26 Apr

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Synopsis: “A cryptic phone call sets off a dangerous game of risks for Elliot, a down-on-his luck salesman. The game promises increasing rewards for completing 13 tasks, each more sinister than the last.”  (Rated R; 1 hour, 32 minutes)

(NOTE: If you haven’t already read my previous interview with Daniel Stamm, I would strongly recommend it as it is one of my all-time favorite blog-posts, linked here for you to read before or after my latest one below.)

On Thursday night I had the massively cool and enjoyable experience of gathering a group of friends to see a movie directed (and co-written) by a good friend of mine. It came out exactly one week ago, and the only problem is – you can’t find it in theaters as of today even if you tried. How can this be?

Video On Demand is a service that has been around for years which allows people to watch movies from the comforts of their home. In the past, people would pay to see movies once they were gone from theaters, sometimes before they were even officially released on DVD; but the movies certainly had their primary run in theaters before that became the backup method to see them later. There seems to have been a shift in the movie industry which has made it common for movies to be made with the complete intention of releasing them “on demand”, and at most giving the movie a token theatrical run.

To clarify, there have always been movies made with the direct intention of being “straight to video”, but what seems to be happening now is different. You have filmmakers – often successful theatrical writers and directors – who go into the process with the intention of making their movie for cinema audiences, but are then told along the way that it isn’t the intention at all.

The following are pieces of a 90 minute “interview” (let’s be honest, it was a conversation) with my talented friend Daniel Stamm (second from the left in the photo below), who also co-wrote and directed 13 Sins, NOT playing in a theater near you…

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Boaz – We just came back from seeing your movie, and had a great night out. Some of my friends now think I’m “sick” for having so much fun watching some of the more sadistic scenes from the movie, but I couldn’t help it! Where are you calling me from right now?

Daniel – I’m in Canada filming episodes of Intruders for BBC America, and will be back in a few months. So let me ask YOU Boaz, was anyone else in the theater actually watching the movie other than your friends?

Boaz – Yes, I counted and there were SEVEN other people (in addition to the seven of us). And when the next showtime started I counted THREE others entering, so that’s another whopping 238 dollars for the movie last night alone! Remind me, what was the budget?

Daniel – 4 million dollars. We’re on our way! Boaz, you’re better at math than I am, what’s the tally so far?

Boaz – Well I don’t know about the last few days, but on its opening weekend it was released on an astounding 45 screens, with a total of $9,261, giving it a per screen average of $206. I can fairly say that if there was ever an antithesis to Avatar  and Titanic, this might be it. 

Daniel – You may be right, but the movie was actually profitable, in spite of this.

Boaz – Seriously? HOW?!

Daniel – Our production company and the financiers made their money back before the movie was even made, by selling the international rights to it. Places like Japan and Germany come up with prices and pay it, and then it’s up to them if they release it in theaters or not, but the people who put up the money here lose nothing. As a filmmaker though, it still hurts to go from a movie that had a theatrical release in America, made a lot of money, and then have the next basically go straight to VOD (Video On Demand) where nobody has heard of it. 

Boaz – Why would they do this though? It just doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have your previous movie The Last Exorcism do so well, so why put nothing into this one?

Daniel – I really don’t know, these days it is becoming more and more common for studios to make movies that are either huge budget tent-poles like Iron Man and Captain they put hundreds of millions of dollars into making and promoting them, whereas more and more of the movies that cost a few million like ours aren’t worth the time or risk to promote, so they just put them out on VOD. We’re actually lucky, I was shocked when I saw we were released on 45 screens, many are on 2 or 3, and I personally didn’t see a single poster or ad for it, so I don’t think they put any money into marketing it. It was all about VOD. As I said, they already made their money on foreign presales, anything else from iTunes and (Time Warner Cable) On Demand is a bonus.

Boaz – I just don’t get it, it’s not as if you have a spotty track record, you made one movie in film school which did amazingly well in film festivals (A Necessary Death), you then were paid to make your first movie (The Last Exorcism) and made it for how much money?

Daniel – 1.5 million dollars.

Boaz – And it made how much money?

Daniel – Almost 70 million dollars.

Boaz – Right! It made over 20 million dollars OPENING WEEKEND, how do they go from that to hiring you to make something that doesn’t get a single billboard or commercial or any marketing, and has the intent of being seen on VOD only? It seems ludicrous. Do legitimate filmmakers have absolutely no safety when they sign a contract that it will actually go to theaters? Can’t you sign a contract that ensures it will get a full theatrical release?

Daniel – You could do that, sure, but it usually won’t make a difference. There are huge producers who commonly pay for movies which are “supposed” to go to theaters, but then they go VOD. If the filmmaker threatens lawsuit, then they usually lose. And even if those power-house producers lose, the amount they have to pay in penalties for breaching the contract is nothing compared to the amount of money they’d have to pay to promote and release a movie in theaters, so they accept that as a part of the business.

Boaz – This happens to people I’ve heard of?

Daniel – Absolutely, you’d be shocked how many never see the light of day; good movies that for one reason or another they decided to not release. I’ve heard that (NAME EDITED OUT TO PROTECT DANIEL’S CAREER) for example makes about 10 movies a year from successful writers and directors, but only releases a few. Some don’t even end up as VOD, they just collect dust on his shelf, so-to-speak. I don’t know why, but that’s what he does. I assume he releases less because it may maintain the success of the brand. But why make all of the extras in the first place? I honestly don’t know.

Boaz – How does the marketing work with VOD in the first place? Your movie was released in theaters last week briefly and immediately can be found on iTunes and VOD, does that mean they’re spending money to market it online for streaming at least?

Daniel – I don’t think so. They seem to just put it out there, and if enough people start to watch it, then they’ll start to put some money into marketing it. The idea of VOD seems to be that they just make the movies, throw it out there, and if people don’t see it, then they don’t put any money into marketing it. That’s how it works now.

Boaz – So this is now backwards marketing? Instead of spending money to market something and tell audiences where to catch it, now you’re supposed to catch it on your own, and only if you do will they start telling others to catch it?

Daniel – Yes, I believe so.

Boaz – That’s insane.

Daniel – They had 13 Sins in the “New Arrivals” section of iTunes, they tell me it didn’t do anything, so they won’t be marketing it… that’s just how it is. Actually, Ron Perlman (supporting actor in the movie, and pictured on the very left of the photo above) said he’d be happy to promote it, he believed in the project, but nobody reached out to him whatsoever. 

Boaz – You’re making me so upset here, as a movie-lover, and as your friend and fan.

Daniel – There’s a huge positive side you’re not seeing. Independent filmmakers who would have never been able to make movies are finally being given the chance to make something that people can see. In the past if you wanted to make a movie you needed lots of money, you needed so many different departments to back you and put time and energy into you. Now small people who have a passion for movies but no track record can make something and release it themselves for free on the internet. Those movies can get you noticed, and make it into film festivals. It’s quite incredible, and is making the entire industry more accessible to the world.

Boaz – Okay, so it’s great for people who are just starting out, but how is it good for someone who already has had success, like yourself?!

Daniel – Oh, no question that it sucks for me, because I’m coming from The Last Exorcism’s theatrical release, but for independent filmmakers there is now nothing standing in their way from making a movie for a few thousand dollars, which used to be unthinkable.

Boaz – You continue to be the world’s most positive person, I think I’m angrier about this than you are!

Daniel – (Laughs). To be fair, it’s been so long since making the movie that I’m not as much in the moment. We were shooting it in Halloween of 2012, now it’s April 2014. It’s just not as fresh or immediate as it would be if it was immediate, so that helps cushion the blow.

Boaz – What are you taking out of this experience then, mister positive?

Daniel – Listen, its not a money issue… nobody lost money on this movie… nobody put a dollar into marketing, it’s just a different movie model now. It’s crappy as a filmmaker because the public doesn’t know the movie exists, and VOD is basically a dumping ground for movies, but from a pure business standpoint it’s still profitable for everyone.

Boaz – How will this affect your future in the business?

Daniel –  I’ve benefited from making this movie, because it’s a different style, I got to use some great name-actors, and we had a great experience putting it together. But career-wise it wasn’t good; it was 3 years of me basically treading water in the same spot. It can be quite hard not to think of that way. If you’ve made a movie that didn’t make money but is a critical success, then at least you can point to that… some people will hire you for for that at least. This one is getting less good reviews and far less money than the last one. In this industry you’re only as good as your last movie. One consolation I’ve been told is that it’s not as bad as if it was released wide and bombed, then you’re considered box office poison, at least this still made people money… but it’s still not good overall.

Boaz – What’s with those reviews, anyway? I thought it was a really great idea and enjoyed it from start to finish.

Daniel – It’s frustrating actually, many of the negative reviews kept comparing it to another VOD movie that was released last year, Cheap Thrills, which got great reviews. It shares a lot of the same plot, and many critics thought we were just copying it. That’s a completely unfair comparison, because we were already making our movie before theirs had even come out. Not only that, but ours is an official remake of the Thai movie 13: Game Of Death from 2006. So it’s ludicrous to say we’re copying this other movie when we’re actually legitimately making an American remake of a 2006 movie. It’s very frustrating…

Boaz – Okay, I think we’ve beaten all of that like a dead horse, let’s get a bit more fluffy. How were the actors to work with?

Daniel – Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) was perfect in the role, and such a great guy. And you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity), he was amazing.

Boaz – What was Ron Perlman like? You got to work with Hellboy!

Daniel – He was very much making his own movie. Most of his scenes were separate from the rest of the cast, looking at crime scenes. So while the rest of the crew had a very close-knit family feel, he kind of filmed everything separately and did his own thing. That being said, he turned out to be absolutely the nicest, most unpretentious and supportive man I could have asked for.

Boaz – Where did you film it?

Daniel – Most of it was actually shot in New Orleans; that was awesome.

Boaz – I couldn’t find anywhere on IMDB who played the “voice” on the phone throughout the movie? Who the heck was that?

Daniel – He’s not listed? Interesting. That’s George Coe, from Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Boaz – Oh my God, I know him, and he’s the voice of Woodhouse on Archer, that’s probably the funniest show on television!

Daniel – I haven’t seen it.

Boaz – You should! Anyway, it’s been an hour and a half of talking on the phone and you’re filming more in the morning, so I really really appreciate you taking the time for this interview, and to catch up. Zoltán (Honti) did another great job as your cinematographer as usual. Is he with you working on the BBC America show you’re doing over there now?

Daniel – No, they have their own crews set-up here for this show I’m doing, so I couldn’t bring him along. We love working together as you know!  

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Boaz – I do know, and he’s a lovely guy who I haven’t seen in years! Adi and I were so excited to see your name on the poster outside the theater, and when it came up on the screen we screamed like lunatics. The other seven people in the theater probably thought we were nuts!

Daniel – Well I certainly appreciate it! Great catching up with you Boaz, see you for some movies when I get back in June!

Thanks to the great fun I had going to see the movie with Adi, Leah, Jason, Shira, Avish and Cindy, the night was a blast. We saw it at the beautiful Sundance Sunset Cinema, which has a full bar and lounge, and at least a few of my friends wanted to kill me afterwards because they didn’t realize it was going to be a bit of a horror movie. Mwa ha ha…

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To be fair, it wasn’t a horror movie, but rather a suspenseful thriller which had some horror movie imagery. I told Daniel that it was like a cross between Hostel and Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Thankfully, he loved the comparison, though I’m sure what it was most like was the Thai movie it was remaking which I haven’t actually seen. As with The Last Exorcism, the movie didn’t end with us going our separate ways, but rather a group of friends discussing and arguing about the “what would you do” quandaries of the movie. Would you start to play the anonymous game-show that proves to give thousands of dollars for increasingly bad behavior, or would you not participate in the first place? No matter what your answer is, it’s not every movie that gets you to keep thinking about it the rest of the night.

The movie wasn’t as GREAT as Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, which felt like an entirely original and almost flawless film. It was however much better and far more interesting than the Hostel franchise which involved sadistic behavior with no point other than to tantalize sadistic viewers. This movie was entirely about human morality, and how easily we might slip.

Quality Rating: A- (There were some technical/continuity problems which I mentioned to Daniel, and he admitted that there’s not much you can do when you have a limited budget, even when you catch the problems at the time you have to sometimes just let it go and move on because you can’t afford to re-shoot the scene!)

Boaz Rating: A+ (Was there ever any question that I was going to love the entire experience of seeing my friend’s movie with a group of other friends, and then interviewing him immediately thereafter? Of course not!)

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The Last Exorcism Part II (“My Interview With The Director Of The Original”)

3 Mar

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Synopsis: “As Nell Sweetzer tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 28 minutes)

The thing with horror movies is that you either like them or you don’t. Does that sound like a “master of the obvious” statement? Well think about it, is there another mainstream genre that people either like or don’t like? Certainly not comedies: some people like lowbrow humor starring Rob Schneider (I do!), others enjoy clever and witty satires, such as In The Loop (me too!), but everyone likes some form of comedy.  Some people are picky about dramas and find many of them too slow-paced to watch, but everyone enjoys some of them. Even action movies and cartoons to some degree can appeal to anyone. Sure, many women will tell me that they find action movies dumb, and my father will claim he doesn’t care for cartoons, but show those ladies Die Hard and force my father to watch Wall-E and you’ll hear about how great those movies are for the next year.

This brings me back to horror movies. The same can NOT be said for them, because horror movies are not made primarily for the storytelling, nor for the development of the plot, but in large part for the visceral reaction that they give of fear and dread in the pit of your stomach. It’s as if every horror movie filmmaker is equally qualified to design a Halloween horror maze, because that’s what the movies are like: guiding the protagonist (and the viewer) through a zigzag of escalating tension (slowly creeping through house) followed by scares (ghost/slasher/monster attacks!) followed by false scares (cat screams and jumps out at the hero – a disgustingly cheap scare tactic at this point) followed by more scares again. Does this sound like something that everyone will enjoy depending on the story? Of course not!  Because whether it’s a good or bad horror movie, this visceral reaction  is simply a turnoff for many people who will quickly proclaim, “I do NOT like horror movies!” As for myself, although it’s far from my favorite movie genre, I’ve always liked haunted houses, so I have a fun time watching these movies and filtering through the good and bad ones. And it doesn’t hurt that my fiancée wants to see absolutely every one of them! And honestly, when they’re good, they often go underrated because so many people don’t like the genre; that’s a damn shame since watching a great one like Insidious or this movie’s predecessor The Last Exorcism allows you to see how the cleverness that went into them deserves just as much credit as the creation of a great comedy or drama.

This review is an especially unusual one for me, because the director of the The Last Exorcism – but NOT this sequel – is the warm and wonderful Daniel Stamm, a dear friend of mine. As such, this blog entry not only includes some glowing personal bias, but some fun tidbits of my conversation with Daniel himself that he is generously allowing me to report. As he sweetly embellished when texting with me yesterday, “I love that you are a journalist now!”

Before discussing this sequel, let me first describe the original. I would like to clarify my intentional choice of wording, because it really WAS incredibly original. The marketing made it look like a hand-held fake “found footage” documentary (or is it real?!) about a terrifying possession and as the title suggests, its scary exorcism. But really the marketing was quite misleading, and it was so much more clever and funny than you’d imagine. Yes it was “found footage”, and it followed a reverend who performs exorcisms, but the twist is that he’s actually trying to show the camera how fake all of it really is, and most of the scares that the previews showed were in fact hilarious scenes in the movie where he’s pulling back the curtain on the fraud that is demonic possessions and exorcisms, showing how none of it is real…until things start to happen, and a real possession seems to occur.  It was done with great humor, very natural acting, and although I was prepared to congratulate Daniel on the movie regardless of how bad it was, I was thrilled to tell him that I really DID like it! In fact Adi and Cindy spent the rest of the night talking about it and poring over the details and raving how great they thought it was; so this isn’t simply a scenario of fake Hollywood flattery.

Cut to the movie in question, the sequel, and it starts exactly where the first one left off. I find this technique in movies to be immediately captivating, because it rewards audiences who have seen the first one by not pandering to new crowds as most tend to do. So often you read a TV or Movie producer claim, “This season/movie is a great place for new viewers to come in even if they’ve never seen it before”, and when you watch it so much time is spent recapping things, or meeting new characters, that you feel like you aren’t watching a sequel/continuation of the story, instead you’re watching a remake. It can work, but there is no feeling of  loyalty given to those of us who have been following the story from the beginning. (Earlier this year I reviewed the newest movie in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and touched on this point. Feel free to click here to check out that short review.)

Immediately this sequel thrusts you into the world of the supposedly possessed girl from the original (played by Ashley Bell again) but follows it from HER point of view as she tries to adjust to normal life after the craziness that had previously ensued. The filmmakers made a fascinating decision that this movie would continue as a normal scripted horror movie, and not a “documentary” style one like the original. It both clashes with the original and melds beautifully at the same time, like how I felt watching From Dusk to Dawn when the first half of the movie’s gritty Tarantino-esque style suddenly becomes a campy horror movie. It’s refreshing to see things shaken up a bit every now and then, and it felt that way from the minute this movie began. (Imagine if your favorite reality TV show was suddenly a scripted show the next season…though some critics would argue that reality TV already IS scripted so that may be an ironic example.)

The rest of the sequel was entertaining enough for horror fans, but unfortunately lacking any of the clever originality of the first one. Without getting into it, the ending was so over-the-top campy that I still haven’t decided if it was an awful finish, or a risky, brilliant move that would make Brian De Palma proud. Ashley Bell is great in a more fleshed out role as the film’s tortured protagonist, and I really enjoyed the understated performance of a caring Muse Watson (who must somehow be related to Kris Kristofferson because they look so darn alike). The scares are average, the plot deviates into a bit of hokey territory as it gets further along, but the direction by Ed Gass-Donnelly was always crisp and effective, and with a sharper plot and story this director may be someone to watch.

But now the moment I’m most excited to share: interesting tidbits from my conversation with my friend Daniel Stamm, who had written and directed the first one, as well as some interesting insight into the politics of the film industry. And yes he did see the sequel:

Boaz – Did they ask you to return to make the second one? If so why didn’t you return? If not, are you offended?

Daniel – It’s a fascinating, political thing in the film industry…if producers have a project and they offer it to a director, and that director declines and it gets out that he turned it down, it can be the end of the project. The value of the project immediately diminishes. No producer wants to say, “Hey, I have a project that wasn’t good enough for ________, but do YOU want to do it?” And no filmmaker wants to be the producers’ second choice. So they don’t actually formally ask the question.

Boaz – What happened in your specific case?

Daniel – We had an informal meeting where they told me the idea for the sequel and what they wanted to do with it. “Gauging interest” I think you’d call it. I liked the overall idea but I had another movie I had already been offered (Angry Little God, currently in post-production), and I felt I had said everything I wanted to say about Nell’s story (Nell is the main character of The Last Exorcism II, played by Ashley Bell).

The conventional wisdom is that you can only win by NOT doing a sequel to your own movie. I wanted to try to widen my horizon beyond horror, so I said I didn’t want to do it. But again, they never ASKED me to do it, and I honestly have no idea if they would have wanted me to do it if I had said that I wanted to direct the sequel.

Boaz – Fascinating politics! What did you think of this sequel when you saw it?

Daniel – I LOVED the sequel. I really did. It was just the biggest “trip” to see Nell continuing her journey (that we started). It was such a thrill. They could have sent her to Mars to grow magic broccoli and I would have loved every second of it. Ashley (Bell) is SO good! And I honestly think the director (Ed Gass-Donnelly) is pretty goddamn talented himself. All that Polanski-esque dread he built up…I am in awe of him. I couldn’t have done that. 

If only Daniel could be connected to every movie I watch, my reviews could be even more fun to write!

The movie was better than The Devil Inside, an exorcism movie from last year which was completely average and unoriginal, and lacked this film’s crisp direction and fascinating predecessor. It was worse than…The Last Exorcism. Lazy choice? Sure, but how could I NOT go with it, it’s true!

Quality Rating: B- (Good acting, crisp direction and continuing where the first left off in an innovative way bumped this from C-grade territory)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Tons of extra fun was had by watching Daniel’s movie, and looking forward to discussing it with him)