James: "It was then that I both stopped being afraid of Satan".
Conducted by Phil
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
Read on for a very honest account of what went down
during the making of 'Trespassing' and then be sure to check the movie
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
"She was a huge, Amazon, girl of
whom I had never heard of".
How long was principal
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
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
Well, yes, but not mine, and not theirs. Anyway, it’s hard to see Estella
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
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
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
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."