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Byron Werner

Byron: "I was more interested in the fun of
watchingmovies like Raiders of the Lost Ark".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
June 27th, 2005

During our hiatus here at the Horror Asylum, I had a chance to talk to a very promising new filmmaker. Whether he is working as a Cinematographer, Director or both, Byron Werner has demonstrated that he is a highly talented individual. He has worked on a number of wide and varied genre projects, from special features for 'Wrong Turn' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' to directing 'Bloody Bill' and serial killer thriller 'Starkweather'. Read on to see what the man himself thinks about the state of the horror genre, and about his work on Steve Cuden's 'Lucky' which is out on DVD here in the UK on July 18th.

When did you first become interested in Cinema?
I became interested in Cinema and the art of making movies in college, where I first became aware of the term "Cinema." I was never aware of the art from when I was young. I was more interested in the fun of watching movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, Back to the Future and Top Gun.

As a young boy I did however enjoy taking a video camera, 2 VCRS, my friends, family and making short movies. I enjoyed moving the camera, obtaining multiple shots for each scene and of course like any young boy incorporating guns into my story line.

As much as I enjoyed making small "movies" at home and at school I was never fully aware of the impact Cinema had on me. To this day I continue that trend. I study Cinema now, but let it have a subconscious impact on me, rather than try to emulate my favourite films, filmmakers or styles.

Are you a fan of the Horror Genre?
Let's make one things clear. If you write nothing else about this subject write this please: Starkweather is not, will never be and never had any intention of being a horror film.

I made Starkweather as tame as I could and still convey the "Horror" of the acts of Charlie Starkweather.

Once again as a viewer, not necessarily as a filmmaker. When I was young I would watch Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the usual horror films. But in the mid 80s there were some very graphic and violent horror films. Faces of Death, April Fools day to name a few. They were some nasty horror films which were less about scaring the audience with a good story and some spooky images, they were hard core. My friends and I would watch these films to see if one would go further than the other.

I like horror films today. To me nothing really stands up to the first few Nightmare on Elm Streets.

Did you do any formal training, and if so was it beneficial?
Yes and yes. I have a BFA in Film and Television Production. School is what you make of it. If you see it as a way to experiment and meet future collaborators it is truly beneficial. One professor for instance is a director for whom I work as a DP.

You are a cinematographer by trade; care to let the misinformed know exactly what a cinematographer does?
A cinematographer conveys the visual language of the film to the audience through framing, lighting and camera movement or lack thereof. The cinematographer often translates the directors' vision into a coherent symmetry between the actors, the light and the story.

Byron: "I don't really like digital, but this film
is the perfect example of content over form".

You have worked with Emmanuel Itier; do you enjoy his relaxed attitude to the work?
Filmmaking is fun. It is not rocket science. Many people over think it. I however like to be more reactive and let creativity flow from each situation rather than stifle it with too many preconceived ideas of what the film needs to be. So a relaxed attitude works well with me. Movies should be fun to make. It is fun. When your job is your hobby, you need to work hard, but you also need to not take yourself too seriously.

You worked on Steve Cuden's Lucky which was well received by critics. How did you become involved with the project?
I answered an ad for a DP online I believe. Steve Cuden, the writer Steve Sustarsic and the lead actor Mike Emmanuel liked the ideas I had about the project and the approach and they hired me. That film was a very good learning experience. We shot is digitally when very few people were shooting digitally. At that time no one really knew anything about taking a film all the way through post and every person you talked to had a different and conflicting answer.

I don't really like digital, but this film is the perfect example of content over form. The content is so strong that the format is irrelevant. I like working with that group and would do so again in a heartbeat.

You have worked on a lot of Automat special features for DVDs such as 'Wrong Turn' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. What do you actually contribute to these features? Do you shoot the behind the scenes footage?
I shoot some of the interviews with the filmmakers. Jeffery Schwartz (Automat owner) is an amazing documentary filmmaker and everyday I work with him I learn about film. I have never shot behind the scenes footage.

Your latest movie Bloody Bill was recently released here in the UK and whilst it was enjoyable I felt that some scenes were exact copies of scenes from other movies, was that a conscious decision?
Funny you say some scenes were exact copies. I have never purposely made any scene look or feel like a scene from another movie.

I was hired a week before Bloody Bill was scheduled to start. This film was way too low budget to do anything but capture the actors on screen. My personal goal, which I feel I met, was to make a film that looks cool and tells the best story I can with the very limited tools and preparation I had. The challenge attracted me to do this film more than the script.

Who came up with the idea of giving the entire film a yellow tint?
It was my idea to make the film "yellow" as you say. Making a horror film with very little time and lights is silly to do all at night. It looks cheap and grainy. I don't want to make movies like that. I felt that a storyline of perpetual Sunset was visually more exciting, hence the constant warm sunset colours. I like to make a decision visually and run with it.

I enjoyed 'Starkweather' much more, but again I felt that it didn't fully demonstrate your talents. How did you find the project to work on?
A producer who has been a frequent collaborator over the years came to me with the project. Starkweather would be the second feature I directed. It was written by Steve Johnston (Ed Gein, Hillside Strangler) who wrote the first feature I directed. Steve is a very strong writer and I have always admired his style and knack for the genre. After reading the script I was very happy to take on this project and the challenge of brining Charlie to the screen in a way he has not been seen before.

Starkweather was made on a small budget in a very short amount of time. I believe I made the best film I could with the limitations I had. This was a period piece which adds a lot of expense (art direction, cars etc.) I think you are correct, it does not fully demonstrate my talents. I look forward to a schedule as a director which will allow me to breathe on set and make adjustments which will improve the film and the story.

I also do not think the characters of the Sheriff and the deputy are right. There is something off about them. The biggest thing is that we needed someone to root for. The early drafts of the script are just Charlie and Carl Ann and where quite monotonous. Kill, kill, hang out, kill. I wanted more urgency for them, a little chase. But once again with a quick schedule I could not fully flush out the characters. I don't like how the deputy came off as a country bumpkin. I also don't like the small scale of the sheriff and his force. A few more deputies and a larger scale would have been nice.

Byron: "If you see it as a way to experiment
and meet future collaborators it
is truly beneficial.".

Unfortunately with Starkweather it lacks a large scale and therefore does not convey Starkweather's influence on the Midwest and the country at that time. I would have really liked to have that in the film.

Overall, I feel the Mentor character played by Steve Grabowski and voiced by Lance Henriksen is a strong character and influence on Charlie. I like that he uses his inner self to justify his own insecurity and need to kill.

Brent Taylor and Shannon Lucio were amazing as the leads and have a chemistry which was part casting and part luck. I directed these two very little. They were so good and worked so well together, I did not want to get in the way. They both tweaked dialogue and made it their own. Shannon came up with great ideas like the lolly pop to convey Caril Ann's innocence while her character was acting the opposite.

My two favourite scenes with them, which work well, are the first scene in the drive-in. I love the rain. I felt that the intimacy was scored well by the rain. The moment I read that I felt the rain was the music.

I also really like the turning point of the movie when Charlie tells Caril Ann that he killed a man for her. Brent and Shannon get each other there. We shot that in a very short amount of time with very few takes and they nailed it. This is the turning point. If Caril Ann walked away she might have saved her family and many other lives.

The last two items I want to mention are the editing and music. Karl Hirsch the editor shaped this movie. He got me. He understood from the first minute how I shoot and how to take my footage and make it flow. It is difficult to find an editor who is so intuitive to what you want and is a very technically proficient filmmaker.

The music is something I feel strong about. It is guitar and bass driven and is scored to make the viewer feel uncomfortable most of the time. I did not want a huge orchestral score. Those are so overrated. They make some films feel too big and take the viewer out. I had to fight for my score. People don't like to take chances, but I am glad the producers finally backed me and let me do something so unorthodox. Mike McHugh, a first time composer, read my mind and really felt the story through his guitar and bass guitar.

I believe that there were some problems with the initial screener copies of the film?
There were problems with the screeners.The wrong dub went out as screener copies. It was not colour timed and was improperly framed because the letterbox was not applied. The movie audiences who rent Starkweather will see a film which was made with technical proficiency and is flawless technically.

Do you think people approach you to helm road movies as you enjoy these types of movies and know how to make the desert look good?
Who knows? I think it is more a matter of coincidence. I do like road movies and I do like the dessert, so for whatever reason, bring 'em on!

What will you be working on next?
I am actively seeking films which will let me show my true potential both through story and structure and that allow me enough time to make films which will continue to propel me to the next levels.

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

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