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Brad Sykes

Brad: "You'd be surprised how many people in Hollywood get jobs this way".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
May 23rd, 2005

Love it or hate it, I'm sure that most of you will have seen or at least heard of 'Camp Blood'. It may not have been well received by many critics, but Director Brad Sykes has managed to defy the odds, and carve out a successful career in the low budget horror genre. Read on to see what the man has to say about his time spent torturing and inevitably slaughtering many an actor and actress, all for the sake of our beloved horror genre.

Your first feature was Camp Blood which was I believe, shot and released in 1999. What is your background? I just wondered why you suddenly appeared as a director, when it would appear that you had only previously worked in various assistant capacities on film projects?
First off, Phil, it's great to be here at the Horror Asylum! Camp Blood was actually my third feature. I had written and directed two movies before it, but it was the first to be released. As far as my background is concerned, I had considerable experience in film production prior to getting any professional directing gigs. I made eight video features in my hometown of Virginia Beach during high school and college and attended film school at Boston University for four years (during which time I worked on Kiss the Girls for Paramount and worked as a script reader for Ridley and Tony Scott). Once making the permanent move to L.A., I directed second unit for director Jeff Burr as well as working as Assistant FX coordinator on several Brian Yuzna films, plus various other production jobs. So, given all that, it's not too surprising that I was given the opportunity to write and direct a low-budget horror film.

How did you go about getting the film made?
Dave Sterling called me and said he wanted to make a 3-D horror movie, and did I have any ideas. Knowing that the 3-D format worked better outdoors, and given that our budget was very low, a Friday the 13th type slasher film set in the woods seemed like a logical choice. I submitted a short synopsis, the 3-D company approved it, and we were off and running.

How did you find your cast?
We had a brief casting session, through which we found most of the cast. There were a few exceptions, though. Michael Taylor (the male lead) was a neighbor of mine in the apartment building I used to live in (you'd be surprised how many people in Hollywood get jobs this way!). Vinnie Bilancio, Joe Hagerty, and Tim Sullivan were all people Dave or I had worked with before on other projects.

Tim Young most recently worked on George Romero's Land of the Dead as head carpenter so he has done well for himself. Do you keep in touch with the cast?
It's been five years since we did Camp Blood, and while I kept in touch with (and even worked with) a few of the cast members for a few years off and on, I really don't have much contact with any of them these days. I saw Tim in Emmanuel Itier's Scarecrow, but I didn’t know he was also working as a carpenter.

Jennifer Ritchkoff fascinates me, as she truly did give her all and really seemed to believe in it. What is she up to now?
Jennifer did a great job in both films, though she had a lot more physical action (and screaming!) to do in the first. She's still active in both film and theatre.

Camp Blood is a lot of fun and is wildly popular, but it isn't really scary. Was this your intention, or did you simply fail to capture that aspect of fear on film?
I never thought Camp Blood would be truly "scary", as there were so many limitations on the project, budgetary and otherwise. I figured the best approach was to play it straight and go over the top with the violence and gore (especially toward the end) so it would at least be entertaining for the horror audience (such as myself!). Most people seem to enjoy it for what it is: a fun, ultra low-budget homage to eighties slashers.

Brad: "I've seen both good and bad reviews for Camp Blood since it was released".

The film was made as a 3-D movie but it isn't presented that way in the UK which I think makes it look terribly washed out. Do you have any idea why this happened?
I don't know why it wasn't released in 3-D overseas. In the States, it's available as a 2-sided DVD which is 3-D on one side and 2-D on the other, which at least gives people a choice. I've heard comments about colors being washed out on overseas DVDs, but I unfortunately have no control over what version is released in different territories.

I think I may have only seen one positive review for Camp Blood, did you feel that everyone attacked you because the director tends to get the credit and the blame?
I've seen both good and bad reviews for Camp Blood since it was released. In fact, the recently published "Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies" calls it a "definite guilty pleasure" that "harks back to the good old days of the slasher movie". Getting reviews, good or bad, comes with the territory of being a filmmaker, and EVERYONE has an opinion about your work. So, I'm used to it by now and it doesn’t affect me too much one way or the other. I do try to learn from my mistakes (and believe me, I know Camp Blood is far from perfect) but at the end of the day, I simply made the best film I could with the resources at hand.

I truly do admire you for managing to go on and have the career that you have had, after making what was essentially a step up from a student film. Why do you think that the film was so successful?
Well, Camp Blood might be low budget, but it's far from a student film. Like any other professional movie, there was a budget, a schedule, paid crew, and a financier who had certain requirements we had to fulfill. Dave hired me because he knew I had the experience and skill to pull it off. As far as its success is concerned, I think there are a few reasons why Camp Blood did so well. Despite its low budget, it does two critical things that many microbudget movies fail to do: it tells astraightforward story and it delivers the goods. I've seen so many microbudget movies that fall on their ass trying to reinvent the wheel or shortchange the viewer by skimping on the nudity or gore. The "Clown" killer also made an impression; a lot of people think clowns are creepy and there aren’t too many "clown slasher" movies out there. All these factors made it an easy movie to sell. In fact, Camp Blood sold so well the year it debuted at the AFM that the distributor asked Dave and I to do a sequel before the market was over.

You did the sequel a year later and it was a much better film aesthetically. I know that Dave Sterling likes the look of the second but the content of the first. Which is your favourite of the two?
I like them both equally, although I think the sequel is the more thematically interesting (and technically superior) of the two. I'll admit it's not as relentless as the original, but I didn't want to simply remake the same film and doing the sequel as a self-reflexive black comedy seemed like a unique approach. A lot of the humor came from my own experiences directing the original Camp Blood and working on other films. I guess in this way, it's also the more personal of the two.

Dave wasn't so sure about the intentional humour in the second film (I thought it was a welcome addition) did you have to do a lot of persuading?
Not really, because I don't think Dave ever read the script! During shooting, he would watch us filming these long comic/dialog scenes and come up to me and say: "So, when's the Clown gonna kill somebody?" But once the FX guys showed up and the blood started flowing, he calmed down a bit.

The films almost have a cult following and Dave has said that he is waiting for the right time to do Part 3, would you be involved and is there any news on the subject?
The idea of a Camp Blood 3 has been floating around for a while. Dave and I have discussed it, but so far nothing has moved forward. It would be nice to do something on a bigger scale and darker than the others. We’ll see what happens.

You worked continuously after Camp Blood, did these projects just fall at your feet or did you actively pursue them?
NO project ever "falls at your feet" unless your last name is Spielberg. I've worked hard for every opportunity I've had as a filmmaker, even when the films were far from being my dream project. Being a writer/director helps me get work, though at this budget level the producers would rather you be a writer/director/DP/editor/ composer/special effects guy. Then, MAYBE you'll get the job.

It would appear that some of your films are never completed, or at least are never distributed outside of the US, do you know why? For example is it a finance issue or bad deals and legal issues?
I don't know where you heard that; NONE of my films are incomplete. All are completed and some, like Camp Blood, Death Factory, or Demon's Kiss, have attained wide distribution outside the US. Others are more easily found here in the States. But they all have distribution. There are many reasons why one film might be seen more than another; often it comes down to the distributor's connections with video stores and retail outlets more than the film itself.

Brad: "I'd rather concentrate on making movies".

Some of the reviews are scathing but I don't think people understand how hard it is to achieve anything in the industry. Dave Sterling said that he gets frustrated as his movies have to compete with films like Spiderman. How do you keep your spirits up when everyone is trashing your work?
I know plenty of microbudget filmmakers whose attitude toward critics is, "Why don't YOU go make a movie for $5,000?" And they're right: it's INCREDIBLY difficult to make a movie, and even harder to get it distributed in any real way. And even harder to do it more than once.

The truth is, most of the people writing these reviews have never made a movie of any kind and most likely never will. I've read bad reviews for my stuff and I've read glowing ones…so, I don't put too much faith in reviews, unless they're written by someone whose opinion I really respect. Even then, I don't spend too much time thinking about it. I'd rather concentrate on making movies.

Has the bad press ever cost you a job?
Bad press doesn't cost you jobs. Going over budget, over schedule, or not delivering the film you were hired to deliver will get you a bad reputation. And that, in the long run, will cost you jobs.

I think that you are hired so much because you have demonstrated time and again, that you can turn nothing into something that will sell well, and make a decent profit. Would you agree?
You're probably right, though it's not just about "turning nothing into something." It's giving the viewer their money's worth and maybe a little bit more. Of course I know Death Factory can't compete with Freddy Vs. Jason from a production value standpoint, but I always try to deliver a decent, watchable movie that belies its budget. Most of the time, I've succeeded in this.

Over the years you have worked with Janet Tracy Keijser, Tiffany Shepis and Linnea Quigley to name a few. How did you enjoy working with each of the ladies?
Linnea was in the first feature I directed, Scream Queen, and she was absolutely great. She worked two days and gave more than a hundred percent, giving acting tips to other cast members and helping me out a few times, as well. After the movie wrapped, we shot a music video for her song "This Chainsaw's Made for Cuttin'".

Tiffany auditioned for Death Factory as one of the victims and I thought she'd make a better monster. I was right. By the end of the shoot, most of the cast had cuts and bruises after tussling with Tiffany. Having her in the film really helped publicity-wise as she's got quite a name in the genre.

I met Janet through Garrett Clancy, a writer/director friend of mine. She's acted in a few of my movies, including Zombie Chronicles and Witchcraft XII. Janet does more than just act; she always helps a lot on set with props, taking stills, etc. A good actress and a cool person.

You recently took some time out to plan your move into bigger features, what can we expect from you in the future?
This past March, my wife Josephina and I just finished shooting “WITHIN THE WOODS”, our first film through our newly formed production company Nightfall Pictures. It’s a slasher film that also parodies reality TV, lots of cute girls and bloody FX. The film is in post now and I’m very proud of how it is turning out. We had a very professional cast and crew and pulled the whole thing off in 6 days. WITHIN THE WOODS should be coming out toward the end of the year: I’ll keep you posted about the release!

I also have three scripts floating around with directors and producers attached. All three are horror pieces budgeted in the $5-10 million range with well-known genre directors involved. It's just a matter of which goes into production first.

What are your thoughts on the low budget horror film industry at present? Is it here to stay?
Low budget horror movies have always been around and always will. In the nineties, when I was in film school, horror was dead, both theatrically and straight to video. There were only a few guys making and getting (limited) distribution for their microbudget movies back then. Then in 1996, Scream came along, and three years later Blair Witch. These two films - especially Blair Witch, which was the first microbudget horror movie to become a big hit - changed everything. Microbudget movies started popping up everywhere - and getting real distribution in big rental chains and retail stores. Horror is still going strong with the recent hit remakes of American and Japanese horror movies. As a result, there's been a flood of low-budget stuff and distributors and rental chains are getting pickier about what they stock.

What this means is that to remain viable, low budget filmmakers will have to improve their craft. And although advances in cameras and home editing software help, I'm really talking about stuff like story, acting, production values. The movies that are well written, decently acted and have a unique story hook - regardless of budget - will always have the edge.

I think the real question is: are the filmmakers themselves going anywhere? So far, I'd be hard pressed to think of one microbudget filmmaker who's gone on to direct a studio picture or even, say, a Sci-Fi channel premiere. The low-budget industry will always be here, but it's not quite the "proving ground" it used to be.

Do you think there will come a time when you will stop making low budget DTV movies?
I certainly hope so. I've directed seventeen features at this point and feel like I've "paid my dues" in the low-budget realm, but at the same time I know how hard it is to make the "leap" from a movie like Within the Woods or Goth to, say, a million-dollar movie. The days of someone working their way up the chain "Corman style" are over. Producers usually want you to do the same thing you did last time, only cheaper. I got tired of doing that, I was starting to feel a little burnt out, so I started putting my energies elsewhere. So far, it's paying off.

Your last film Bloody Tease was written by Eric Spudic, were you impressed with his work?
Not really. I know Eric boasts of churning out scripts in a few days and this one felt like it. Lots of long dialogue scenes (some of which I had to rewrite) punctuated by action that was beyond our budget. It's not that I have a problem directing others' scripts, I'd done it twice before, but Bloody Tease was not anyone's finest hour and a half.

What's next for you?
As I mentioned before, I'm very excited about WITHIN THE WOODS, which should be completed toward the end of this month. We plan on making at least one or two more horror films through Nightfall this year, with more to come. I'm glad I've been able to contribute in some small way to my favorite genre, but I'm also looking forward to making bigger – and scarier -films in the future!

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Brad.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

All photos taken from Brad's upcoming project 'Within the Woods'.

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