This week I chatted to Emmanuel Itier, Director of Scarecrow about the constraints of low budget film-making, the crazy on set antics of the cast and crew and about his marriage to the lovely Roxanna Bina amongst other things. I also got huge exclusive news on his next horror feature that has so far not been published anywhere!!
When did you first become interested in film?
Well, 2 years ago my good friend Tanya York who had huge success in the US doing low budget films in the Urban/Black genre and Latino films in Spanish
for the huge Latino population of the US genre decided to create a horror label.
I had worked a lot with my master of horror: Brian Yuzna on movies such as The
Dentist 1 and 2 and Progeny for which I was helping with the effect concepts
and the overall production and I decided to help Tanya set up her first film:
"SCARECROW". The main challenge for us was aiming to do this film with a low
budget, way under $1,000,000 but also to establish a fruitful franchise she
could capitalize on. From the get go I decided to hire Anthony C.Ferrante who
had also worked plenty with Brian Yuzna as my special effects supervisor and
Todd Rexx to become the Scarecrow! Another key element was to bring on board
my favourite Director of Photography: Byron Werner who had shot my first film,
"Tell me no lies" in 2000.
Did you always want to direct?
From age 14 I started bugging my parents to direct! My dad is a radiologist
and my mother a history teacher so I am from a very classic academic
family and they were quite scared about me jumping into the unsafe and
unstable world of entertainment. My first film was a 5 minute short called
"The Cage", vaguely inspired by "Birdy" from Alan Parker which truly was the
film that got me to jump into becoming a director. "The Cage" was a NO budget
shoot shot in one evening with a bunch of friends, half were drunk and the
other half was stoned! I was a little bit of both!! It became kind of a weird
existentialist poem about the great scam of living. Anyway, once I showed it
to my parents they were quite impressed and started to embrace my decision to
move to Paris to become a Director. Little did I know it was going to get 2
continents, France and the US and another 10 years before I was going to be
able to finally shoot my first 35mm film called "Tell me no lies", an Erotic
Thriller with the hot Amber Smith. In between I directed of course with NO
budget a few shorts on video. One, "Schyzo" is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock
and has my sister, Lise (who is now a banker!), in the lead!! Anyway...I think
you find out you're a director when there is nothing else that counts but to
tell stories and that you start looking around as if you had a camera instead
of eyes, it's quite a trip!
How did you get started in the industry?
Well, I had no contacts, I never went to College nor Film School and I moved to
the US after falling in love on a plane with a flight attendant! Needless to
say it was a rough and chaotic road to Directing!!! In the US nobody cares too
much about a "French" Director; let's say it scares people because they have
in mind the old school of directors like Goddard or Truffaut. Even though I respect
and love these directors my favourites and my inspiration are people like Luc
Besson in France, Alan Parker in England and Quentin Tarantino in the US. I
also love a friend of mine in France named Christophe Gans who did The
Brotherhood of the Wolf! And of course I shall not forget my master of horror
Dario Argento to whom I dedicated my "Scarecrow". Anyway, to go back to how I
got there...hum...well...for me it was ten years of doing stupid jobs such as:
French teacher, bank carrier, body-guard, health trainer, food manager, pizza
maker, gigolo (one or two times just to pay the rent!! with old women!! talk
about the mad passion to want to make it!!!), video sales-man, cable sales-
man, auto-sales man, valet parking, waiter in many many restaurants...finally
one night a friend of mine called me from France to tell me a magazine "Mad
Movies" needed a journalist based in L.A. and that's how I became a journalist.
From there I met a guy who hired me as a consultant to buy straight to video titles for France and then, because of me going to teach some big Hollywood big shot French (his name was Peter Hoffman ex-president of Carolco who did the Rambo and Terminator movies, I got a job to become a script reader and analyse
what could and could not work. From there I became a courier runner for a big
talent agency, CAA and then an assistant agent to the famous Jay Malloney who
represented Scorcese and Spielberg. Finally after all these experiences and a
few $$$ in my pocket (not much!!) I decided to open my first production
company (me and my wife!) called "Papillon Productions"...and the rest is
history as we say...or more, the rest is full of tears and joys, pains and
pleasures, ups and downs and it ain't over just yet!!
In 1996 you worked on The Dentist. How did you get involved in the project and what was it like to work on?
I have known Bryan Yuzna for ever. We actually met as I was doing a yearly
Halloween party teamed up with a Hollywood Studio in Los Angeles. One year I
met Brian as we were premiering his film "Return of the Living Dead Part 3".
From there, we developed a deep friendship which eventually led to a
development deal with Bob Weinstein at Dimension/Miramax films. We developed
a series of films together but none of them, to our great and sad surprise were
produced. But we kept working together and when he decided to direct The
Dentist I stayed on board, behind the scenes and gave advice
and consulted on many areas such as the writing of the script, the casting,
the overview of the effects. This truly was a learning experience with one of
the best directors in the genre!!!
Did you pick up any tips on directing from Brian Yuzna?
Yes, he told me to always be prepared to have an answer to anyone asking a
question, even if you have no idea of what you're talking about. you're the
Chef on a set and you better show leadership and inspire your crew, or else
you run the risk to lose everybody's faith and attention. He also told me to
be super picky about the script. Without a good story you have nothing,
without strong characters you just have some silly effects that nobody cares
Emmanuel's 2002 horror 'Scarecrow'.
You then worked consistently in film, and your next horror project was
2002's Scarecrow, which you Produced, Directed, Co-wrote and Acted in. How did
the project come about? Was it your idea or did York Entertainment approach you?
Well, after The Dentist I worked again with Brian on The Dentist 2 and on
Progeny and then Brian moved to Spain where he is doing brilliant movies for
the Filmax Studios in Barcelona. I could have pushed to go there but I had a
family and felt somewhat I needed to fly with my own wings, so I stayed
in L.A and started another company (me, myself and I, as I was divorced by
then, life in the movie industry has a tendency to destroy or take over your
private life!!:( Wonderland Entertainment. With that company I started to
produce ultra low budget (under $200,000 a piece) films in the Erotic Thriller
genre and I did several: "Wildflower", "Crime Scenes", "Starstruck" and then
decided it was time for me to jump fully into my directing shoes. After a
short bull-shit meeting with my producer I convinced him I could direct one of
these Erotic Thrillers: "Tell me no lies" (initially called "Midnight Hour", a
much better title). A few months after I was a director with a full
feature under my belt! And then I finally moved on to do "Scarecrow". Again, I
ran into Tanya York at the 2000 Cannes film Festival where she told me
about her plans to do horror films. Initially she only wanted me to Produce
but after watching "Tell me no lies". After I had done a full re-write (which got
me a co-written by credit) of the "scarecrow" script and after we did some miniatures
and story-boards to show her my vision she finally agreed to let me direct!
What was the inspiration for the story?
Well, this is a question for its brilliant writer...let's say that for me it
became personal once I did the re-write. When I was a kid I was fat, with
large ears and a huge nose. Everyone would laugh at me and call me
f#cking names such as Dumbo! Needless to stay I was very angry and I wanted
to kill everyone...the kid in the Scarecrow is me; he is someone nobody cares
about. Eventually he dies, comes back as a Scarecrow and starts killing
everyone who f#cked with him! Damn, I would have done the same if I could! As
I always say, Life is a bitch, but she has a beautiful ass so it's worth
striking back in the hope of getting laid one day. And one day, indeed I got
laid: I directed!!!
Did you have much pre-production time?
As I'm also a journalist interviewing every major stars for French
magazines and a TV show on MCM TV and as I also buy films for the French
market I work like 90 hours per week so when the time came to shoot
Scarecrow I had had no rehearsal time, no preparation time, I even lost my lead
actor the first day of shooting because he was not happy about some stunts he
had to do and I had to improvise every single angle and shot you see in
the movie...I don't say I'm brilliant, I just say I'm lucky to be instinctive,
to be a natural director, I breath and live through the movies, I'm a
You had some very talented Cast & Crew members, how did they become
Well, the two most famous people are Tiffany Shepis who was in many Troma and
other kick ass horror films and the other dude is Rick Elfman who plays the
sheriff and a red-neck (the one getting his head off!). I'm a long time friend
of Danny Elfman and Rick Elfman. I always love to work with friends,
especially when you have no time and no budget because it's way smoother and
quicker and the chemistry works at once. At that time Tiffany was also dating
Danny Elfman. so anyway, to make it short it was my personal friendships and
a little bit of my artistic vision that got me my cast...I even slept with
then girlfriend Roxanna Bina, who became my wife after the shoot, to convince
her to be in my film...just teasing...she had already agreed to be in it...but
I would have done it if I had to prove myself!!!
What was Tiffany Shepis like to work with?
Tiffany is the most instinctive and hardworking bitch, I mean sweet pie (!!),
on the planet! I truly adore her and could not have made such a great film
without her. She is so visceral and has such a kick-ass butt that the camera
loves to photograph her… truly!! She also has a great sense of humour to be able
to deal with my stupid and lame sex jokes!
Tiffany was so dedicated that on more than one occasion, with her own money (or the money of her boyfriend!) she would have pizza delivered to the set to feed my fat ass! Also, she agreed to lend me her own giant black truck for the final fight scene with the scarecrow even though she was scared shitless at the thought of us destroying her precious vehicle!!
I must ask you there are always references to Tiffany being a lesbian in her films, is this a deliberate in joke that she likes to have in her movies?
It's all about the perversity of the director! I love women who can get onto
other women! I'm just a sick bastard that's all! But I'm sure Tiffany loved
touching the tit of the blonde in my film!! Maybe it made her all wet and
everything, you should ask her!!
Anthony C. Ferrante was also heavily involved, what was he like to work
Well, Anthony is my idol! Truly here is a dude who always has been under
appreciated and under rated!!! Not only did he deliver a kick ass team of
effects dudes to put on the show with no budget, he also directed all the
gore sequences and did an incredible job! It made for a smooth and laid back collaboration...you better watch out for him as a first time director in his up-coming film called: "BOO!" financed by the same team who gave us "Dog Soldiers"!
I'm very excited to see his Directorial debut BOO, do you have any behind
the scenes gossip from Anthony about the project?
Ok, so you knew already about "Boo! Well, this is a cool ghost story that takes place in an abandoned mental hospital. I tried to set it up with the people
who financed Scarecrow but for some reason beyond my understanding they passed
on it. Their loss as it's going to be brilliant. One of the producers Sherry
Brilliant was also working with Brian Yuzna on The Dentist...the film is being
edited and what I saw is super scary and kick-ass!!
Directorial debut with erotic thriller
'Tell me no lies'.
Did you find that having multiple roles and a respected cast & crew made the project easier (because everyone was experienced) or harder (because the pressure was on to deliver something special)?
Whether you have experienced actors or not, it's always a challenge to deliver a film because there are so many things to think about that you can't control everything and everybody. But if you're laid back and have a serious focus you will always overcome any challenge. It's important to be a straight shooter, to be honest and always clearly speak your mind. Also, even if it's pointless to be a tyrant, you need to show that you're the boss and that you know what you're talking about. Always have a serious and focused point of view on every line of the script and every scene but be flexible and allow Actors to propose their own point of view, their take on their role.
Did the shoot go smoothly?
It was actually extremely stressful and insane. We only had 8 days to shoot this film with over 5 different locations but on top of that two incidents almost shut down the production. Actually 3! The first day of the shoot one of my lead Actors (Chad I think, the jerk who likes Tiffany's character) bailed out on me because he didn't want to do the scene where the Scarecrow flies over his head and kills him. He said he needed a "stunt double"! What the F#ck?! What an idiot, so I told the guy that we didn't have this in the budget but that there were no risks whatsoever…he decided to quit as I was setting up the first shot of the film! I panicked for 2 seconds and asked the entire cast to call their best Actor friends and that the first one who would show up would get the job! I know it only paid $50 a day but believe me, there are over 5,000,000 hungry and broke Actors/Actresses in L.A who cannot get a single job…so within minutes I had a new Chad! Actually the new guy was a way better Actor than the one who gave up. He only had the job in the first place because he was a friend of one of my Actresses and I was being nice. See, it never pays to be too nice.
Anyway…that same day we almost had to shut down the shoot again because, as we were shooting some scenes in a corn-filed in the out-skirts of L.A, some homeless, tattooed and totally f#cked up dude raged onto the set and threatened to kill everyone. He was saying that this was a Holy field and that we were sinners with our monster and the scarecrow stand that looked like The Christ's cross. After a short but bloody fight with one of our crew members I decided to call out the cops. But this is L.A and there are so many crimes and not enough forces. So the cops told me to call back only the dude had killed someone! Great!! Now everyone was on edge. I had to call 2 friends who are security guys in order to protect us the rest of the day. Needless to say that by then I had taken a few vodka shots to go easy on my raw nerves…but we ended up being lucky and made the day and night shoot work out. My second big freight was on the 3rd day of shooting. We were in this scary and run down mobile home area in a very depressing and gang-like area in the valley, North of L.A.
The tension was pretty high on the set as the "locals" didn't really appreciate the presence of some spoiled wannabe movie star brats like us. And then to top it all off, the first shot I called that day was doomed by my lead Actor, the one playing Lester (the future Scarecrow) falling into a coma!! We called the cops and the paramedics and because a man was down they had to come!! Thank God! We found out in the afternoon, once they re-animated my Actor that he had some diabetic problems and that he forgot to tell us!!! So I had to shut down the shoot for a few hours until we figured out what to do with our day, stuck in the middle of nowhere! Again, we ended up lucky when our Actor came back from the dead and the hospital and we were able to get most of the shot necessary…!!!! AAAArghh…the joy of filmmaking!!!
How much control did you have?
I had pretty much total control over everything once the script was fully approved by York Entertainment. They were the easiest people I had to deal with for a long time. As long as the dailies turned out clear and full of cool effects they were happy. Only at the end did they give me a little bit of a tough time because the movie was like 10minutes short and they wanted me to add a few scene to make it run for 1h30min….but after a few brainstorming sessions, we figured out what to do and it all ended up just fine.
Were you pleased with the end result?
Considering that I had 8 days to shoot a film in 35mm with all of the stunts and gore that there is, and considering that my budget was an ultra low amount of cash and I had to figure out how to make the film even when we could not pay for a lot of stuff! Considering it's just a silly horror film with a monster killing people! Considering it was only my second feature…I would have to say that I'm proud and super duper happy with the film. Of course I know it's not Lord of the Rings or Jeepers Creepers but again, it was impossible for all of us to do better! You know, if you look at "Piranha 2" by James Cameron and you compare it to "Scarecrow" these are two pretty bad movies that made lots of money for their distributors and that helped launch some pretty successful careers.
Is there anything that you would want to change if you could do it again?
Give me a $1,000,000 budget and 3 weeks of shooting and you have a totally different picture!!
The film has been poorly received, does criticism make you more determined to prove the critics wrong?
I don't want to prove anybody wrong…especially when they are right: the film is weak! But sometimes these critics don't realize how hard it is to make a film like this, without any money or time! I ultimately don't care too much about what people think of me or of my movies, for me it's all about having done something with my stupid life and also having paid the rent with that work. Again, all of my movies made some people rich and for me it's important that the financiers are happy with the commercial exploitation of my film….even so I don't see a penny from it!!!
One of the main aspects that viewers did not agree with was the Scraecrow's wisecracking. Whose idea was it to make him comical rather than straight out scary?
Listen, this is all so relative…do we want to scare or do we want to have a film that's more of a "farce" with a comic-book feeling…for me it was always clear that I wanted to do both but somewhat, and indeed by having too many stupid "scarecrow jokes", we lost the element of fear…but that's ok…I still think it's a fun and entertaining movie…especially if you had one too many beers or glasses of red wine!!!
You married Roxanna Bina in October of 2002; did you know each other before you made Scarecrow, or did you meet through the project?
I met her the year before at Sundance. I was drunk at some party and she was the only girl that didn't slap me because I was trying to flirt with her!! Anyway, nothing happened for a while since she was living on the East Coast and me in Santa Barbara, California. But then, somehow, the mad gods in the Heavens felt it was a pretty kick-ass match and put us in touch at some business trip I took in N.Y. a few months later…and the rest is history….I totally wanted her to play a part in Scarecrow without being too pushy in front of the eyes of the financiers so I gave her the part of Stephanie. I think she did a cool job and nailed it down.
In 2003 you produced Scarecrow Slayer, why was the sequel rushed into production?
Several reasons: the US video label who financed and released the first one, York Entertainment, needs to have a lot of titles out on the market each year. So when they saw the huge success of the first one they decided not to wait and to put out the second one and even approached me to develop the third one, "Scarecrow Gone Wild". Also, they probably knew that if they waited too long, that our price as filmmakers would go higher and that it was easier and smarter to have us go into another production at once.
Did the original make a decent profit?
Decent profit? Try like HUGE profit! Scarecrow shipped over 30,000 units in the US and was sold pretty much everywhere around the world! Talk about a financial home run! Too bad I have not seen a penny from that success. Even so it wasn't part of my deal I thought naively that based on the success of Scarecrow that I would get some bonus check or at least a bigger budget to shoot the sequel. Needless to say that I'm still waiting to be thanked for my services!
Consulting producer on Brian Yuzna projects.
What about the sequel?
Same thing! An equal success!!! You can understand why after that I decided to move on. What's the point for me to make other people rich! I appreciate the fact that I was given a chance to direct but to see how much money my films made and not even be thanked kind of made want to forget about dealing with that company. It's too bad because I had wanted to do other films with York but it's truly impossible for me to make a living doing films for them based on the lame salary I would get.
Were either of the films released theatrically anywhere?
No but it wasn't the plan. These films are really made for the direct to video market and for cable. I had submitted "Scarecrow" to Bob Weinstein at Dimension/Miramax in the US. I got an incredible positive fax back from him, signed by him, congratulating me and encouraging me to deal with them but declining on a potential theatrical release. Still this was quite cool.
Which film do you prefer?
I prefer the one I directed. David did a great job with the sequel but I'm not too crazy about the script. Still Scarecrow Slayer is a fun ride.
You are currently prepping Nomad, your new horror feature. Can you tell us some details about the plot, potential cast & crew, budget, if it will be 35mm etc?
Nomad…well, here you are the one line sales pitch: it's about a killer of Attila the Hun waking up from the Dead and being chased by the US Military because he holds the Holly Grail! Think, "Indiana Jones" meets "The Mummy" meets "Apocalypse Now"! It's going to be super kick ass and furious!!! I'm going to do as many practical stunts, fights and gore effects. Forget about CGI and wire work or bullet-time effects, I want to go back to a more visceral, all in your face type of Action like the first Conan and Terminator…it will be shot also in 35mm of course, and we made some offers to some big names…hopefully I can shoot it by end of next Summer in California or Vancouver, Canada.
When can we expect to see the finished product & who is likely to release it?
The film is being financed by a master in the art of deal-making, Michael Mendelssohn from Patriot Pictures (see his site at www.patriotadvisors.com). The financing will be mainly independently raised and we will definitely try to get a Theatrical release with Dimension/Miramax or New Line afterwards.
What else are you working on?
I've got several films I'm developing for me to direct, one is based on a Victor Hugo book and is a big Epic Historical Action/Drama…another is a high concept Sci-Fi picture in the style of Stargate. I'm open to more intimate stories that are not loaded with effects…I see myself doing whatever cool story I run into, no matter what genre it's about.
"Thanks you for taking part in this interview Emmanuel.
We wish you the best of luck in the future."