Sunday, November 20, 2011

Featured Director in the Madhouse: Johnny Daggers

Greetings Horror Fans,
This week, I decided to do something different and take a step away from the writing world...well kind of. A couple of weeks ago, I met Melanie Stone (who I hope to interview soon!) and she introduced me to her fiance, Johnny Daggers, who is an all around horror artist. Seriously guys, the man does it all. He writes his own movies, directs/acts/models for them, and even does the soundtrack.  He has produced movies such as Caustic Zombies and SAMHAIN:Night Feast, and has some really sick ideas for the future. I'm including the interview that I did with him below, and I highly encourage you to check out his websites.

Stay tuned for next week, when I post a chilling ghost story from my mentor, Scott Johnson, and as always, if you have anything exciting going on, shoot me an email.

Stay Scared,

By Stephanie M. Wytovich

What got you into horror in the first place?
I can’t really say. It just feels like something that was born in to me. Some kids like G.I. Joe, I liked monsters.  My earliest memories are probably around the age of 3 when I went as Frankenstein for Halloween. A few years later, my uncle was living with my parents and I remember how he would make his own masks. I remember watching him and being transfixed by it. He also had this coffin bank that when you put the penny in the slot a skeleton hand would come out of the coffin and pull it in. I would play with that for hours. My family was very liberal as to what they allowed me to watch, so I was lucky enough to grow up being allowed to watch scary movies. It’s really hard to define one exact moment that got me in to “horror”. It’s the only way I can remember being.

When did you start writing/directing? I started writing and directing in 2010 with my first short film, Samhain: Night Feast. The film was meant to be something for me and my friends, but just weeks after it was finished I received word that Tim Gross was showing it at his Bastards Of Horror short film fest. Much to my surprise, the film was voted the best film of the contest. After that, I realized that we had something special and started my own film production company, DaggerVision Films. 

Who are your biggest inspirations? Favorite author/director/movie? And Why?
I know that this is really going to come of as a crass statement but no particular artist inspires me. There are artists whom I appreciate but none that truly inspire me. There is only one person who truly inspires me, and that is my talented fiancĂ© Melanie. She is a photographer and also makes custom horror jewelry for her company, Dark White Arts. When I watch her work taking photos it sends chills up and down my spine. When she is photographing you can see the energy and passion pour out of her. It’s truly amazing. This inspires me. We are artists. We do what we do for the love of the art, not for the monetary gain. 

What are you currently working on?
I currently have about 8 scripts or so in my computer that I revert back to from time to time, but the one that I am focusing on the most which will be the next DaggerVision release is an anthology called, “Necrology”. Necrology will be comprised of four short stories from four of Pittsburgh’s leading horror directors such as Mickey Maggot (Magggot Films), Brian Cottington, Jason Swinchock (E-Nertia Global) and myself. I know a little about Brian’s piece which sounds amazing. He does not have a working title for it yet. Jason’s piece is entitled, “Midnight Kiss” which also sounds extraordinary. And the piece that I am working on is entitled “My Dark Place (Alone). The title was inspired by the Murderdolls song. I am probably most excited about this project than any other that I have been involved with thus far. The one thing that excites me most about it is that I am bringing other Pittsburgh Horror Directors together to work together as a family. No bullshit, no egos, no rivalries, just comradery. I feel that we have a scene that is more talented than any other that I have witnessed in this country. There are so many amazing artists that it just makes sense if we all join together and make some truly amazing art. In essence I feel like we are the Warhol’s of the underground film industry in Pittsburgh.   

Where do you plan on seeing yourself in 5 years?
I haven’t thought about it, at least not in my professional career. DaggerVision Films is a company yes, but I never want it to feel like work and a grinding job so I take it one project at a time.  
Talk to me about your opinions on Corporate Hollywood Horror. Can remakes ever be beneficial in your eyes? Why or why not?
Eh, the “Hollywood” question. That’s okay that you ask. I’m glad that you did. I just laugh now because I have become so well known for my outspoken hatred towards Hollywood and the stale, regurgitated and purified bullshit that they so relentlessly force feed to the younger horror audience. The horror genre is the only genre that vilifies itself with needless remakes and sequels. Some of the directors have brought this upon themselves by not knowing when to stop their own movies before they just make a parody of themselves. And then you have directors such as Michael Bay who in my mind is the number one serial rapist in the industry. Not literally of course.
In my opinion for what it’s worth, I can see a director wanting to remake his /her own film under the following pretenses. If he/she as a director made an extremely low budget film, and due to lack of finances could not make the movie as he or she truly envisioned and then were presented with backing that would allow the respect artist to remake the film the way that he/she had originally envisioned then yes, this is acceptable. I made Caustic Zombies on $350. I had a lot of great support and donations such as two military vehicles which upped the production value, but the movie was not filmed the way that I had fully envisioned in my head. If I were presented with the opportunity to remake it, there is no question in my mind that I would. My intent would be for artistic purposes, and not financial gain. I did leave Caustic Zombies open for a sequel and the reason that I did that was due to lack of budget and also the time frame in which we had to finish the film. And in regards to Samhain: Night Feast, I would seriously consider making a sequel because the original was shot for fun and was a very Hitchcockian film in the essence that I wanted the viewer to determine what happened and why, leaving each viewer walking away with their own interpretation of the film. I have ideas in mind for Samhain: Night Feast which would tie up some of the intentionally lose ends. Who knows? The point I am driving home is that if a remake is done for artistic merit by the original writer and director than I am all for it. If you are out for money and remake someone else's film where the film was flawless to begin with then that’s where I have a problem.       

You mention in an interview on your site that you’re not a fan of how Hollywood plugs in T and A just for the sake of sex. Do you deny that sex sells? What’s your position on nudity in horror? Should it be avoided completely, or is it enough to know what’s going on behind closed doors rather than actually seeing it?
I will not argue that sex sells and by that, you validated my point. In current films, writers and directors blatantly show nudity to either mask a weak script or to sell out. The other day Melanie and I were watching the film Knock-Knock. Dreadful. I don’t think that we made it past more than the first 15 minutes. In the beginning there is a murder. The detective arrives at the scene. The detective is a female in a low cut, lace blouse with her jacket unbuttoned three quarters of the way down and her tits half hanging out. Really? Not only is this cheap, but unrealistic. Yes, this sells to an audience of adolescent men, but is this what you want to be known for? There is no substance here. It is not what I want to be known for as a director. If nudity is required to pull off a scene, then so be it. I have no problems with that. In our modern society people forget that the mind is the greatest deceiver of them all. You do not have to be blatant. The mind is a twisted thing that is capable of creating the most vile and gruesome images on its own. When the mind has some time to wonder, that is when it works the best and this in powers the viewer to scare themselves worse than any visual effect that we can create as artists. Look at Psycho. Hitchock in part to the censors could not show Janet Lee nude in the shower, but he didn’t need to. The shower slaying was much more beautiful left to interpretation and then watching the blood circle the drain before descending.    

How would you describe Daggervision Films? I know Melanie described it as an Indie…but what does that mean to you?
I grew up a punk. I’m still a punk. When I was growing up there were no Hot Topic chains selling Manic Panic or trashy clothing. If you wanted to dye your hair you did what we did, you used India Ink or, you painted your hair like my friend Kenny and I did. One time we stole Tempera paint from the art room and literally painted each others hair. After a week our hair turned brittle, snapped off and then fell out, but that’s what you did. If you wanted cool clothes, you made your own. I taught myself how to silkscreen, sew and paint the shit that I wanted. This is the approach that I took to making movies. Don’t bitch that you don’t like what going on in the current scene if you’re not doing your part to change it. If there is no scene, make your own. And if you have ill contempt for what’s around in the movie industry, then you make your own. Totally D.I.Y. This is how DaggerVision operates. You may or may not love our films, but either way you have to respect that fact that we take no shit and our films are made by fans for the fans.

·What do you hope to achieve with Daggervision Films?
Melanie and I have talked about this about both of our artistic endeavors. As long as we make enough to put back in to the art and keep making more art we are happy. This year at Cinema Wasteland a young boy came up to our table. He was eyeballing the Samhian: Night Feast comic books that we had for sell. He would continuously pick up a copy, look at it and then put it down. I could tell that he wanted a copy but had no money. The boy walked away looking somewhat sullen. I called the boy over and gave him a copy of the comic for free. Who knows, in doing that I could have been the one to introduce this young boy to a world of horror that may grow in to a life long passion. If that ends up being the case, then that is what I hope to achieve. The thought that this boy might remember this for years to come means the world to me.

Do you only work with Zombie plot lines? What draws you to this category of the undead?
No. Sadly my first two films were zombie films. By sadly I mean that I started and or filmed both Samhain: Night Feast and Caustic Zombies just before the zombie craze really set in. Now I am sick to death of zombies. The undead are more or less dead to me at this point. I do not feel that anything new can be accomplished in making another zombie film that is why I am going towards the more disturbing mind fuck style films such as Necrology.

Can you talk a little about the plot of Caustic Zombies and Samhain: Night Feast?
Samhain: Night Feast is a story which revolves around some terrifying events which happen on Hallows Eve. I do not really want to say much more than that because as mentioned, I want each viewer to walk away with their own interpretation of the film. Caustic Zombies is loosely based around the near nuclear mishap which happened here in Pennsylvania at Three Mile Island. I also adapted some facts from Chernobyl and embellished on those facts. I wanted to bring something horrific to the attention of younger Pennsylvanian residents who may have never known that such terrible tragedy was once almost bestowed upon us. I began writing Caustic Zombies months and months before the Tsunami’s of Japan which caused there nuclear reactors to shut down. Once this happened, the media brought the spotlight back on the nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Life was imitating art at this point and this shed a lot of focus on my film. It felt like some twisted prophetic premonition come true. It was quite strange.

Do you act in your films? If so, what’s your acting background?
I have acted in both of my films. I played the lead in Samhain: Night Feast and I wrote in a small cameo role for myself in Cautsic where I played a street punk/junkie. I will be playing the lead in my short “My Dark Place (Alone) as well. I have some theater background and am use to performing in front of other be it in theater or the years I spent playing in bands and performing on stage, so it has always felt very natural to me.

Do you find it a necessity to include humor in your horror? Why or why not?
I am glad that you asked that. I certainly do. As a horror kid growing up in the 80’s, the 80’s horror films perfectly captured the combination of horror and comedy. I have adapted that in to my films as well. You need a balance between the two, then again only if the film calls for it. Any one who knows me personally knows that I am a clown who will do anything for a laugh. So I try to show this side of me in my films when it is needed.

LADYASLAN wrote that you are a horror model. Can you talk a little about that?
Well, I have modeled before. And I was recently asked to pose nude for a “punk” publication which I won’t mention but needless to say, I turned that down. I get lots of requests but turn most down. Modeling is not what I am really in to and to be truthful I don’t like to have a lot of attention on me. I can and will model if it is for something dark and artistic but I’m really picky about what I chose.

What’s a typical work week like for you? (How much time to do you spend writing/editing/shooting , etc.) Do you have any type of routine that you follow?
Thankfully I am in my down time at the moment, Sort of. Daggervision is close to releasing a film written and directed by DaggerVision family member, Brian Cottington. The film is entitled “Tablet Of Tales”. The rough cut is done and we’re shooting for a December or January release.  I played one of the leads in the film and I am composing part of the soundtrack, so I guess I am not really on down time all that much. On top of that I am finishing my part for the Necrology release and working on some meetings with the other directors.  

Advice to aspiring artists in the field?
My advice would be to just pick up a camera or pen and paper and just do it. Fuck what your friends or parents are telling you. If you have the drive and ambition you can succeed. And regardless of the financial gain, if you are doing what you love than you have succeeded.

 If you have anything else you want to add…feel free!
If you want the genre to survive, support independent filmmakers. We are the ones making the true films that you want to see. We do not expect to make millions of dollars doing what we do. We just want to make enough to bring you more films. When you buy a DVD or merchandise from us, it goes directly to the artist and it helps us bring you more movies. 

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