Craig: "I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy".
Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
February 4th, 2008
Most of you will no doubt recognise Craig Singer as the director of creepy carny horror film Dark Ride. What you may not know is that Craig is back with his new baby, fan made horror film Perkins 14 and that he is also the man who discovered Amanda Peet - so we've gotta give him props for that alone!
Craig is a horror fan who is going to be doing a lot for other horror fans with his next couple of projects, so read on to find out more.
When did you first realise that you wanted to make films and how did you go about achieving your dream?
I never thought I would be able to direct films for a living. I grew up in a very middle class town with zero ties to the entertainment industry.
Films were something “Other” people did. I always had the passion and picked up a super 8mm when I was around twelve but it was still a far off dream. When I was 17, I was drumming in a band - we were traveling and got a call from a friend telling me I had won a National Award for best New Director for this PSA (public service announcement) I shot on gun control.
I had no money to do this short film but I guess it worked and it did teach me that you didn't need a great deal of money to do effective work – that was probably the first time I thought “Hmm, perhaps I can give this a go”. I never could afford film school. I just started shooting and reading and watching a ton of films. Like 3 to 4 a day for years. I saw East Of Eden when I was in JR High. It had a tremendous impact on me. I sort of fell into that film in a way that changed my life. I wrote Elia Kazan (the director) and he wrote me back – I like to tell people that he was my film school. You may not agree with his politics but he was a beautiful artist and his films move me still.
How did you get to the point where you were shooting your first feature, Animal Room?
I had been doing music videos and then wrote Animal Room based upon people I knew and things that I had both witnessed and experienced in High School. I had a chance to sell the script but said “Fuck it” lets give it a go – I had been doing favors for many years and decided to call in some favors myself. The film was a brutal experience though – I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy. The wire transfer with the majority of the funds never showed up so I had to raise money on the set everyday.
We worked 15-18 hour days – it was freezing down the Jersey shore – we had equipment failure – my first week of dailies were all soft focus – it was rough. We did find a distributor early on and the film to this day has a wonderful cult following.
"Fun? No – Dark Ride was a grind".
What were Neil Patrick Harris, a pre-Scream Matthew Lillard and Lori Heuring like to work with?
They were all great. Another find was Amanda Peet. It was her first film and while I was told not to cast her – I went with my gut and she was fantastic. Matthew is very focused and intense. He and the rest of his gang would stay with me at my home and we would visit locations and work on the scenes, blocking etc. Lori was wonderful as well – in one scene she did a lap dance for Matt and she wanted to show me how her lap dance lessons were coming along, so she gave me a dance and all I remember was being so tired and wanting to sleep and how under any other circumstance I probably might have enjoyed Lori's dance – (Sigh) talk about suffering for your art…the price of 18 hour days!
How was the film received?
Did it open any industry doors for you at the time?
Animal Room did well and to this day I get fan mail. Many kids who had a tough time in school identify with the work and Neil's character and I find that most rewarding. I also got signed by William Morris and the experience led me to some talented folks I work with to this day.
There was quite a long gap between your first and second films. What did you do in-between?
I was writing and continuing to work on films. I did get caught up with a very famous Academy Award winning producer who made a great deal of promises and wasted a whole lot of my time. It was a valuable lesson however in just how difficult it is to get a film made. A friend once told me that the two most difficult things in the world are getting someone to give you money to make a film and getting them to do it again. I tend to agree.
What is your relationship with Robert Dean Klein? You've worked together on everything you’ve done haven’t you?
Not everything, but quite a bit. He's a super talent and has grown as a writer and the work we have done together is something I am very proud of.
He is more like my brother at this point, and while I have projects that I do alone – and he does as well – we always come back. I think it’s a respect and acknowledgment of our stuff being better together than (some would argue) our stuff apart.
Lately, you've become known to horror fans for your association with After Dark Films and their annual Horrorfest. How did you first encounter the fest and its founder Courtney Solomon?
Dark Ride was picked up by Courtney as part of year one Horrorfest. He and I became friends from that experience.
How did Dark Ride come to fruition?
I directed a film called A Good Night To Die that played at the Cannes film festival – the film was produced by my longtime partner Chris Williams and written by Robert. Mickey Rourke had been attached to play the lead for a very long time – he and I became close friends and we (along with Robert) wrote a script called “Penance” together. After A Good Night To Die screened, an executive from Lions Gate came up to me and Chris and asked us what we wanted to do next – I told him “A horror film”
and he basically said “We are your partner” – that's how Dark Ride started.
"The lack of sleep was worth it".
You had a great cast, particularly Jamie-Lynn who was big thanks to The Sopranos at the time.
Did everyone get on as well as it looked on screen?
They did. We had very little rehearsal time for Dark Ride. It’s funny – you spend years and years getting a film together and you rarely have time for actors to work together before hand. That and the fast finish in post production are things that never make any sense to me, but not too many things do make much sense in the film business.
It looked like a fun film to make, was it?
Fun? No – Dark Ride was a grind. We shot nights and I am a famous insomniac, so I didn't sleep much, and on the one day a week we had off I couldn't get my body into turnaround so I was a mess. I was also pounding what I thought were Vitamins but later found out that the supplement was a sort of caffeinated “Speed” so I was pretty amped up ALL THE TIME and ended up physically exhausted. I do love the film however – it has this feeling to it that is exactly what I was after. It is very satisfying, and while some fans wanted more gore up front – folks who love Dark Ride – Really love Dark Ride. I get so much Jonah love when I go to Film and Horror conventions. The fans of Dark Ride are really generous. So in that respect, the lack of sleep was worth it!
What were some of the challenges you faced whilst shooting?
I had really ambitious shots and storyboards, which were not very practical for the number of days we were shooting. I had to give up a significant amount of shots and the most visually interesting stuff I had planned never materialized. Perhaps Dark Ride 2.
It was also my first LA film and I did not enjoy some of the shorthand I developed with some of my NY crew.
The film has done well for After Dark, is that what led to you joining with them again for the third fest?
My partner Chris Williams and I were working for years on a Fan Crafted Horror film. Courtney asked me to direct another film for Horrorfest three. I was told Dark Ride was one of the more successful films for year one. So the timing was right to partner again and Perkins 14 was born.
Perkins 14 is an interesting project, as it was made by fans for fans wasn’t it? Can you tell us a little about the process?
It was and is in fact the First Fan Crafted Film in the history of Cinema.
No pressure J. What that means is that the idea came from the fans – four roles were screen-tested and given to fans and even the poster art was designed by a fan competition. After Dark, FanLib and Massify teamed up to bring this opportunity to the fans and as a filmmaker who started as a fan myself – it was a privilege and an honor to be asked to direct the film.
We cast the other roles traditionally with Chris Harris out of London – shot the film in Romania and did the post at Molinaire in the UK and New York. It was a truly international production.
How was the film received earlier this month?
Perkins 14 has been embraced by the fans far better than I had ever imagined. It has exceeded the enthusiasm for Dark Ride and my older films as well. We were doing some fairly experimental work & while I knew it was challenging, I never expected the sort of film or performances we ended up with. Remember there is no SAG acting in this film – most of the cast are newcomers and untrained – so I went with my gut and hoped for the best. My lead Patrick Okane and Richard Brake have extensive theater experience and training and I was very lucky to have found them. I did bring some actors over from the Actor Studio in NYC as well. I had a blast working with the talent and everyone was there to work and give me 100%. We didn't have time for egos and I am so proud of the work they did and the film as a whole.
Is it likely you'll work with After Dark again? Perhaps on Dark Ride 2?
You never know – I have some films in various genres so well see. Courtney and I continue to be friends and I have respect for what he has done for Horror fans in general. He also gave me and other filmmakers a chance to exhibit our work the way every filmmaker intends and dreams...on the big screen.
What’s next for you?
My partner Chris Williams and I are doing a film for Warner Brothers titled “Fear 101”. It takes fan involvement to the next level – much more than Perkins. This time we are going to put the “Blood in the hands of the fans!”
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Craig.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."