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James Merendino


James: "It was then that I both stopped being afraid of Satan".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
August 07th, 2005

After checking out the severely underappreciated 'Trespassing' I was desperate to talk to indie legend in the making James Merendino and I got my wish at the start of Summer. As always, I'm just so sorry it took forever to get this very honest and insightful interview online.

Born into an Italian family of filmmakers, James is both modest and keen to prove that he can make it on his own.

He shyed away from using his family name until he felt he had successfully proven himself as a promising new talent.

Although 'Trespassing' may not have turned out exactly as he had hoped, the film certainly caught my eye and I can only hope that James Merendino sticks to his plan of making more genre movies in the near future.

Read on for a very honest account of what went down during the making of 'Trespassing' and then be sure to check the movie out!

Tread carefully when reading the interview however, there may be spoilers!!

When did you first become interested in film and how did you go about getting into the industry?
I was with a friend at a theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was 12 years old and had my heart set on being an Author (having completed my first novel about WWII [my knowledge of the world was such that I wrote of how one of the characters 'longed to watch the cheese blossom on the hills of the Alps'.] ) I digress. My friend and I were 12 years old and sneaking in to see "The Exorcist". I was sentenced to catholic school at the time so with that, along with William's aggressive filmmaking prowess, I was scared to death and went without sleep for four months, believing that Satan was going to enter my body and force my head to turn in circles and make me speak English in reverse. My father was a Doctor and owned a medical clinic at a resort in the mountains. My parents were very worried about me and were about to take me to see a psychiatrist, when the FX man for "The Exorcist" broke his leg skiing and was ushered into my father's clinic. They spoke and my father learned what the man did for a living and told him about my ongoing terror as a result of this man's work. That night, the man came to my house with photographs and FX supplies (he was shooting a film in Utah about Grizzly Adams), He showed me how everything was done in the movie and even put some prosthetic wound on my arm and covered it with fake blood and puss. It was then that I both stopped being afraid of Satan and began longing to make movies.

Did you do any formal training and would you recommend it for those looking to work in the film industry?
I did no formal training, save that I worked for a very powerful producer when I first came to LA. He taught me the one thing one must know in order to make films. He taught me to never say I want to make films" but instead to say "I make films". For some reason this seemed to work because by 23 I had made my first feature.

Every person has their own way into their career. So train if you feel instinctively that, that is the road for you. Personally, I find it hard to imagine what 'formal training' would be when it comes to Directing. The art is still in constant flux. The only way to make it in is to do what no one else has done. How does one teach a person that? There are no 'set rules' to learn as a director. And if you really want to make movies then you have probably seen thousands of them and have studied them all yourself.


James: "As far as I know it's true.
Or else she just made it up".

Your first feature was Witchcraft IV. How did you land the job and was it a positive learning experience?
I was 23 years old when I was offered one thousand dollars to make Witchcraft 4. I had to report to set in three days. I had been all over town telling people that "I make movies" and this phase echoed in the ear of some C movie guy and he tracked me down and gave me the job. I had to quit my job with the producer who taught me what to say. Now, how did I get a job with this producer? Well, when I got to LA, I needed a job. I went to a Temp agency that serviced the 'Industry' and proved to them that I had no practical office skills at all. They called me two days later and sent me on a temp job as a runner. The job was for this Producer. I was meant to stay for one week. One of my duties as a runner was to drive this man around in his black Jaguar. I took the opportunity to impress the man about my knowledge of Jazz, seeing his collection of old Jazz records in his house. (I knew enough not to mention that I wanted to work in movies. That was a given and it would have put him off). When we got to the office, he told one of his assistants to fire the other runner who was attending a funeral and he made me his runner/first assistant/whipping boy.

Making the film was a lot of fun. I have never looked at it as a "Learning experience". I just made the movie as best as I could. The trick to being a director is in being able to convince the crew that you know exactly what you want, even if it's not true. They will follow you and work harder for you and things will run smoothly if they believe that you are THAT competent.

You obviously got to work with Julie Strain on the project. How did you find her as an actress and a person?
This was twelve years ago. I was twenty three. She was a huge, Amazon, girl of whom I had never heard of. She was very nice to me and tried to do what I asked her to do. I was shy about her wanting to reveal her double implants all of the time. But, that aside, I remember liking her.

Your most recent movie Trespassing was released here in the UK on May 2nd. Where did you get the original idea for the film?
I got the idea for Trespassing from every other 70's Horror film about kids who go to a haunted house/slasher stomping ground made. The idea was to make the film just like the ones from the 70's, only raise the bar with respect to blood, acting, believability and suspense. Now, intentions don't always shine through. In the end, I was not happy with how I finished the film. We shot everything we would need to make the film go further than the others... but sometimes one does not always get what one is told they are going to get. If I could cut it again, it would be a better film.

Had you wanted to make a horror movie for some time?
I always want to make horror films. I still want to make what "Trespassing" was meant to be. I have a friend named Bernard Rose. He just made a film called "Snuff". He took the genre pretty far. I would like to do the same in my own way.

Are you a fan of the genre?
I am a huge Horror fan.

What are some of your favourite horror movies?
I'll give you six. "The Exorcist", "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", "Let's Scare Jessica to Death", "The Innocence", "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", "Night of the Living Dead."

Back to Trespassing. Was the story about the previous owner conducting experiments on her slaves a real story? I had heard a similar version in the movie The St. Francisville Experiment and apparently it actually did happen in New Orleans.
It is a true story and I had no Idea someone had made a film referring to it. "The St. Francisville Experiment" escaped me. The legend behind "Trespassing" was changed to this story three days before we shot.

There is a scene in the movie where Ashley Scott talks about Spirit Bottles. Is this also based in reality or was it just a nice touch?
Ashley is from around the area and told me that’s what those bottles are. As far as I know it's true. Or else she just made it up.


James: "She was a huge, Amazon, girl of
whom I had never heard of".

How long was principal photography?
Two weeks.

Were there any major problems during production? Judging by the production photos I think you may have had problems with the rain.
I could write a book by simply listing the major problems we had. The least not being that he crew refused to go into the attic as they were certain it was haunted. They had seen things, heard things up there. Things they put down for only a moment would go missing, only to be found right where they left them. But I shoot through whatever. Just roll the camera and get as much as you can.

How did you find the location?
The investors found the location and insisted that I make the film there in New Orleans and at that house. I had written it for the mountains near the Donner Party incident in the Sierras.

Was there any spooky goings on in the house?
Aside from the attic...the spookiest thing going on in the house was this persistent feeling that the floors were going to give way.

How did you find your cast? Did you have anyone in mind or did they all audition?
We held auditions.

Estella Warren is traditionally seen as eye candy, but she gave a very good performance in the film, what was she like to work with?
Estella was great to work with. She reminded me of working with Heather Graham. Both are better actors than people sometime suppose.

Was it a conscious decision not to force the lesbian part of her and Ashley's characters?
Well, yes, but not mine, and not theirs. Anyway, it’s hard to see Estella even experimenting.

The film is open to a lot of interpretation and like the characters in the film, you mess with the audiences heads to put them in a similar situation where we don't know if Carl Bryce is killing them or if it's one of the group or if it's all in Kristy's head. Was this deliberate?
Actually, the intent of the story was that they all go up to the house and (because of the curse) they all fall into a kind of a mass hysteria. The original cut is clearer about that. I'm not sure what happened. I told the story just to say that evil is something we bring with us. It's not just there. Ironically, the theme is now directly opposed to my personal conviction.

The film has some really suspenseful moments, how hard it is to create that on set so that you have the footage to re-create it in post?
With suspense, create the environment that something is going to happen, then delay and delay and delay as long as you can.

In your mind, who is responsible for the killings?
I believe that Mark killed Eric; Tyler backed into a bare trap, but then fell out of it. (We do not know if Mark or Tyler are dead, or we didn't know that until the new ending they tagged on.) And I believe Kristy killed Sharon and the Welder. It was meant to be that in another perspective, Sharon and Kristy hear Tyler and Mark in the cellar. They are fighting, then one of them goes to the cellar and Kristy hits him with the trap. All of that is debatable in the old cut. In this cut, I have no idea who killed who. I would say Carl Bryce Never died and Sharon is just freaking out.

The film had a limited theatrical release in the USA, where else has the film been released so far and how have people reacted to it?
I don't know where else it has been released. I didn't even know it was released here. They call it "Evil Remains". I have heard mixed reviews. But my own is not so good. I prefer more sustained suspense and the irony of believing in the curse that Mark is trying to dispel, sends them all nuts. I read a story about this happening in Colorado in the 60's. But this version is not so bad. It's just not too standard.

Was it intended to be a low key affair? It never really had a huge marketing push. Is that purely down to budget reasons?
Well, when it screened in LA for the studios, almost everybody seemed to want it. MGM was the most excited. But as these things happen, negotiations took too long and the deals went away and the investors released it having very little money to do so. I believe they are making money from the DVD. But, I am on another film and am not in touch.

Would you like to work in the genre again?
I intend to make another Horror film after my next.

Finally, what are you currently working on?
Well, five years ago I made a movie called SLC Punk. The narrative was crazy and it was all about the details of that American sub-culture. I am making another like it, but this one is about the sub-culture of Dungeons and Dragons. It's called Dungeon Master and it follows a Narrator who takes us through the world of those who play the game and why, etc... There's more to it, but we'll see how it comes out.


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

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