CC2K

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Rushin’ Roulette: An interview with a No-Budget Filmmaker

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


Image In 2007, Erik Kristopher Myers burst onto the CC2K scene, writing a slew of great articles, including one where he compared Spiderman to fellatio, and another where he caused Harry Potter fans the world over to raise their wands in anger. And then…he all but disappeared.

He has resurfaced (in his hometown at least) as the writer/director of Roulette, an intense psychological drama about three incredibly lost souls whose lives, and fates, are connected in the worst possible ways.

Recently, Myers sat down with CC2K’s Rob Van Winkle to discuss his absence, his resurrection, and everything that came in between.

Rob Van Winkle – Erik…the last time you wrote for us was July of 2007. I know you were pretty excited to write for us…so what happened? Where have you been for so long?

Erik Kristopher Myers – I’ve been hiding under a rock since that Harry Potter article! For about a week there I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting somebody’s blog where they were linking to the article and tearing me a new one online.

Seriously though, I’ve been really busy with a number of projects at this point. I’m currently writing a book on the Exorcist franchise, I’m at this time making a feature film called Roulette, and I’m planning a follow-up film called Garage Band. Prior to that I…some might say wasted a year and a half trying to get an independent film called Penny Dreadful off the ground. It was a very high profile project here in the Mid-Atlantic region, and it went belly up due to financial issues.

 

RVW – JUST that? That’s all that was going on?

EKM – Should I throw in the part about getting married, having major surgery, working a job that requires overnights…it’s been a crazy couple of years. It’s been absolutely nuts. Did I mention I drink a lot of coffee?

 

RVW – That went without saying. Can you talk for a bit about this book you’re writing?

EKM – The very wordy working title is The Evolution of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III: From Concept to Novel to Screen. In 1990, William Peter Blatty, who wrote and produced the original Exorcist did a follow-up, and the studio essentially took it out of his hands after he turned in his cut. They made him do all sorts of eleventh hour rewrites and reshoots, and basically held it over his head that if he didn’t do it himself, they were going to bring in another director to do it for him. The film dramatically changed, and all of the original footage has since been lost. So it has sort of turned into horror genre’s equivalent to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, in that it was originally a very classy film that the studio hacked apart and turned into a commercial piece. So it’s been a big question mark in the minds of genre fans for about the past twenty years. So I’ve gotten access to Blatty himself, as well as a number of stars of the original film. I’ve been given rare materials like the original script, studio notes, various drafts of the story as it has evolved, as well as stills from the original footage. So I’m basically trying to chronicle how a film can get away from the auteur and be transformed into a purely commercial product.

 

RVW – Okay. That’s one third of your enterprise. But from here, I think the question is this: how does a guy working a full-time job get into the business of making his own movie?

EKM – Very carefully.  There are two types of filmmakers in my position. You’ve got independent filmmakers, who are in a position where they are able to not work, or take off work, and shoot pretty much full time. Then you’ve got no budget filmmakers, and that’s the category I fall into. It’s a lot of weekend warrior sort of shooting; a lot of late nights and overnights. It’s essentially taking what resources you have, and rather than seeing their limitations, trying to make them into something passable as a feature film, but completely surprising to the viewer. The goal is to make a film that looks like it was made for five million dollars, but really cost five hundred dollars. It’s not easy at all. It’s very physically and emotionally draining. You see a lot of money going out and not a lot coming back in, but if you don’t love what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t’ be doing it. If you’re trying to make a film on the independent level for money, you’re in the wrong business. You’ve got to be willing to go out there and do art for the sake of art, and hope that there’s a payoff later on. But the art has to be there first.

 

RVW – But the film you’re doing now…isn’t even your first attempt at this sort of thing? What happened there?

EKM – I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible.  In 2007, a Baltimore based production company sought to finance and produce a feature film on, compared to Hollywood standards a low budget, but for the region it was quite substantial.  I was asked to write a screenplay that could be made for somewhere in the fifty to one hundred thousand dollar range, that would be commercially viable that would also get us critical attention. And I was given thirty days to do it. The idea was that, if I wrote this thing, I would be able to direct it. Over the years, I have written some screenplays that had gotten me some notice from some relatively well-known filmmakers, who were interested in buying my work, but not interested in producing a film directed by an unproven director. So I had some scripts that I knew if I had a feature film under my belt, I might be able to direct them. So I jumped on this opportunity and wrote a script called Penny Dreadful. The studio loved the script. We cast the film, I began finding locations, building an effects department, wardrobe, a stunt team, basically everything that fell under the creative umbrella.  Ultimately though, the start date got pushed back and back and back, and we went from being a high profile project in the area, into being considered a joke, like we were just some kids running out there putting out press releases, yet having nothing to show for ourselves.  It became clear that the production company either didn’t have the money they said they had, or that they had simply misappropriated it. By the summer of 2008, I pulled the plug because I had never officially sold them the script. I had just gotten married and returned from my honeymoon, and my professional name was essentially in the toilet. Unfortunately, there are very few people outside this industry who know the difference between a director and a producer. A producer produces the elements: money, sets, wardrobe…all of the elements that the director then uses to direct.  The problem was that during pre-production for Penny Dreadful, the production company wasn’t talking to any of the talent. They were letting me be the mouthpiece. So everyone assumed the director was the guy in charge. I can put together as many proposals as I possibly can, but if I can’t sign the checks, I can’t move the film into production.  So after I pulled the plug, I was left with nothing but my script, and my name seen as a colossal joke. That’s when I knew I had to write and direct another film. I had to basically prove everyone wrong.  That’s where I am now.

 

RVW – Why did you only have thirty days to write a script that ultimately didn’t have funding?

EKM – The studio in question wanted to get into the business of making feature films. They originally went after a stage play. It had won an award in the Baltimore area, and they wanted to do an adaptation. I was asked to come on as an assistant director. They got as far as the table read…but the entire time they were putting this together, I kept trying to tell the producers that the script was too short. It’s being written as a play; it’s not going to translate directly to film. The script only had a few different sets; you can’t have characters sitting there for ten minutes at a table talking. You have to adapt the play. And as it was, it was about a half-hour too short. Everyone assured me it was going to be fine, and at the first table read, sure enough it clocked in at fifty-seven to fifty-nine minutes. So it became very apparent they weren’t going to make it the way they had intended. Now they had already announced and cast the film, so to cancel it at this point was going to make them look very bad. So they originally asked me if I could fix the play. I told them I could try, but that it would end up being a completely different entity, since I’d have to make it a third longer. So they asked me “What can you do for us now?” They didn’t want to look bad, and so they had to move forward with something as quickly as possible.  I was given thirty days, after which they were going to ask other writers to come up with a script. So if I wanted my chance, I had to hustle right then.

 

RVW – Okay. That covers LAST year. So you got married, saw what Penny Dreadful was becoming, and put the kibosh on the whole thing. And then you just started over? How did you do that?

ImageEKM – Here’s the thing: for the first half of 2008, I was laid up in bed. I had had surgery on my throat and nasal passages, so I couldn’t talk; I just laid there and watched movies. And so as I saw this project fall apart, I felt something was off. Because there was another dynamic: this wasn’t just a production company; they were my friends. These were people who were going to be in my wedding, or I was in their wedding the fall before. There were relationships tied up in this. So as I was laid up and thinking about this situation, and every time I got to my email and saw the litany of angry messages about the film, or when I discovered that people were using Craig’s List as a forum to attack me personally, calling me a fraud…that was a really dark time for me. It was during this time that I made up my mind to get married in April, spend May being a newlywed, and then come June, I had to write another script…quietly. Something small in scale, but very big in concept. I needed to write something that could be done for no money, in limited locations, yet was going to keep the viewer interested throughout.  I had to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was a filmmaker. I didn’t have any equipment, but I was going to do it with what I had. If actors thought I was a fraud, I would get friends and family to get them involved for me. So I sat down in June, and told myself that I needed to write the best script I’ve ever made in my life, and it has to be able to be made for nothing.  And when it was finished, I gave Roulette to my wife, who was going to be the producer, and she said that we couldn’t make this movie on a consumer grade camera. Even if it meant taking on debt, we had to get real equipment, a real crew, and real actors. She’s the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever had in my life. And that…is exactly what we did.

 

RVW – Wow, and you’re filming Roulette now. When did you leave your job to start making it?

EKM – If only it were so simple. I work for XM Satellite Radio, and my particular job has me working four overnight shifts per week, and one daytime shift as well.  On the weekend – and I say that with finger quotes since it’s not a traditional weekend by any stretch of the imagination – I spend trying to have a normal life with my wife. When you throw a feature film into the mix…I sleep when I can. I work non-stop right now. The film is a full-time job right now, maybe even more since I take it to work with me and edit when I’m not on the air. It’s crazy. It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job.

 

RVW – So earlier you mentioned another film – Garage Band. You already have the next project lined up, while you’re still slammed with this first one?

EKM Garage Band is a comedy that’s going to follow Roulette. Roulette is a very dark, introspective piece that I wrote during that dark frame of mind I mentioned earlier. It’s probably going to disturb more than a few people, so for my next movie I think I need to go a bit lighter.  Roulette was born from that stress from earlier this year…and as stressful as actually shooting it has been, seeing it come to life, and seeing how happy we all are with how it’s coming together…it’s put me in a much more whimsical place. Garage Band came from that.

 

RVW – How can you split your mind like that? How can you be so invested in one project, while starting to focus on the next one too?

EKM – Well if you really want to look big picture, I have the next ten years planned out. You have to think in increments; where are you going to be today, and then where am I going to be after tomorrow. You have to think big picture. I’m a big picture person, and I have to keep moving forward, because I don’t intend to stop. Even if I lose more hair than I already have, I need to keep moving, because things are actually happening now.

 

RVW – That’s an amazing story, Erik. It sounds like you’ve been stopped more time than most people get started, and yet you’re moving faster than most people ever get to.

EKM – Well I know you’re supposed to say this, but I couldn’t do it without the people around me. My wife has been unbelievably wonderful in this, and there’s no better rocket fuel than having someone you love more than the project you’re working on, believe in you so completely. We have a full crew from J65 Productions working on this for nothing, because they believe in the project, and I have actors willingly going to places they never dreamed of before – for no money – because they see the promise of something at the end we can all be proud of. Without them, I couldn’t do this.

 

RVW  – So when are you done? When do we get to see Roulette?

ImageEKM – We finish shooting in early December, and we hope to have a trailer put together around Christmas. The film HAS to be finished, locked, color corrected, scoring, everything, HAS to be finished no later than January 10th. The goal now is the film festival circuit, that’s the biggest circulation we can get right now. The late submission deadline for the ones we’re looking at are between January 10th and January 15th. We have to be done by then. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. The goal is to hopefully have it showing in festivals in April, while we’re shooting the next one. And if we don’t make it into any festivals, then we go ahead and put out a premiere on our own. But there always has to be the next project looming. There’s no rest for the wicked.

 

RVW – Well that sound amazing, Erik. Best of luck, and we look forward to hearing more from you as the story progresses. Hopefully sooner than eighteen months from now.

EKM – Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Update: After the interview, Erik has decided to chronicle his experiences as a no-budget filmmaker into a series of articles for CC2K. Stay tuned!

Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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