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
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
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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.
"If you see it as a way to experiment
and meet future
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
Overall, I feel the Mentor character played by Steve
Grabowski and voiced by Lance Henriksen is a strong character and
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
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
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
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."