Jesse: "I like to think I’m from the
hands-on school of filmmaking".
Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
March 11th, 2008
Jesse Baget's debut horror feature Wrestlemaniac will finally see release on DVD in America today, so I caught up with the insanely talented genuis to talk about his hilarious feature film debut as well as his upcoming project Oz Land.
Read on to hear how Dario Argento and Russ Meyer served as the inspiration for a film which was originally going to be titled The Mexican Porn Massacre.
How did you get into filmmaking? Did you train formally at all?
You could say I trained more in the Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino School of filmmaking. I watched and learned from hundreds of different films, from 1960s cult classics, to obscure low budget slashers, to big Hollywood hooplas. All films have something to say, and you learn from all. When still in High School I wrote, directed, produced, edited and acted in an eighty-minute full-length feature film. I moved to L.A. at 19, and wrote, directed and produced a few short films before tackling my first feature length effort, Wrestlemaniac. I like to think I’m from the hands-on school of filmmaking.
Are you a big horror fan? If so, what are some of your favourite genre films and in what way did they inspire you when making Wrestlemaniac?
I’m a movie buff and horror movies take the cake in my book. Some of my favourite films are Italian giallo flicks like Dario Argento’s Deep Red.
Some of the long steady cam shots I used in the movie were very much inspired by classic Argento. When it comes to shooting the female form, none did it better than soft porn king Russ Meyer. One of Meyer's most wicked films, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! also influenced the more over the top framing of the female leads.
Where did the idea for Wrestlemaniac come from?
I’m a big fan of the cult Lucha horror films that were made in the 60s and 70s. The bigger-than-life masked hombres that populated those classic flicks are definitely inspiration for the character of El Mascarado. I had wanted to bring a homicidal Mexican wrestler to life for a while, when the occasion to do a low budget horror movie came along, I was all over it. Wrestlemaniac is what happens when you mix porn with Mexican
wrestling: blood, boobs and Lucha!
"Wrestlemaniac is what happens when
you mix porn with Mexican
How long were you working on the project before it was made?
I spent a few months writing the screenplay and several more months raising part of the financing. Producer Jake Schmidt was the first person I gave the script to and he loved it, so it was pretty quick from there.
However, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get a project on the set and running, it’s always too long!
How did you find your cast and what were they all like to work with?
We had seen Adam Huss in a play called “Pecker Patter”, which was the male answer to the Vagina Monologues. Adam played “The Dick”. We had him come in and audition and he blew everyone away. Jeremy Radin who played Steve in the movie was the only person we read for the role. The female leads were more difficult to find. We saw over a hundred girls and Leyla Milani and Margarette Scarborough stood out from the crowd.
I have to ask you about Leyla Milani. Is she naturally that bendy or was she uncomfortable during that now infamous chase scene where she’s hiding from the killer in a porn star pose?
The first image that popped into my mind when I came up with the idea for this movie was a hot girl with her legs behind her back in a contortionist position hiding from a Mexican wrestler, so I knew I needed someone who could…deliver the goods way before I cast the part. At first Leyla found the pose a bit too…exposing. When everyone told her what a great shot it was she got into the spirit of it.
The film is equal parts horrific and funny. Are you a big fan of horror comedies or do you simply feel it important to relieve tension with laughs?
I think humour and horror compliment each other. When an audience is laughing they’re the most vulnerable to being scared. So I set up a big laugh then BAM! Rip a face off. I think some of the recent horror flicks out there take themselves too seriously. Personally, I’m not entertained watching a guy get tortured for 45 minutes. I prefer films like the recent Korean release, “The Host” where horror is delivered with some laughs.
"Personally, I’m not entertained watching
a guy get tortured for 45 minutes".
How long was the shoot and what kind of challenges did you encounter during photography?
Originally, the film was written to take place entirely in an insane asylum. I had found this amazing location only twenty minutes from Downtown L.A., where they shot “Bubba Ho-tep”. It had once been an actual insane asylum and it is now abandoned and scary as hell. That location was a horror movie in itself let me tell you.
We spent over a month preparing the location, cleaning it out, building our sets and the day before shooting, the local film commission revoked our film permit and shut us down saying the buildings were condemned. The producer decided we had to find a new location fast or the movie might not happen at all.
Three days later, we’re starting principal photography in a Mexican ghost town, so I had to rewrite the entire script in three days to make sense in an open ghost town from an enclosed insane asylum.
We also lost two shooting days as a result of the money we sank into the first location. In the end, a lot of the filming was improvised as we went.
Are there any funny anecdotes from the shoot you could share with us?
Jeremy Radin, who played the Lucha-obsessed Steve in the movie, was a great improviser, who pretty much rapped the whole story of El Mascarado between takes, complete with chorus provided by co-star Adam Huss. The rap song he came up with on the spot was so hilarious that we edited it into the end credits of the first version of the movie. Unfortunately, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor in the final edit, but you can still catch a few rhymes at the end of Wrestlemaniac.
The film found distribution in the UK last year courtesy of Revolver Entertainment and has been picked up in the US by Anchor Bay. What are the current release plans for the US?
We had a small theatrical run last October. Anchor Bay is releasing the film on DVD on March 11th 2008. I’m thrilled they picked it up.
Has the film performed well here in the UK?
I don’t know the exact numbers but from what I’ve heard it’s done very well in the UK. But let’s face it, you guys have a way better sense of humour than us Americans, I need to be making movies over there!
If the film does well in the US will we see a sequel?
El Mascarado will always be ready for another face-ripping romp…if people want to see more of him.
What else can we expect to see from you in terms of new projects? Will you be staying in the horror genre?
I’m working on several projects, one of them Oz Land, which explores exploitation horror more than slasher horror like WrestleManiac. It’s about three girls who are kidnapped and tossed into an insane, dark world but when these chicks escape, they don’t run for their lives; they take up arms and kick ass. It’s being produced by Patriot Pictures that made True Romance and more recently, Lord of War.
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Jesse.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."