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Scott Phillips

Scott: "Don't let anyone tell you you can't
make a good movie with a one-chip
DV cam and iMovie!".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
May 31st, 2005

As soon as I had finished watching 'The Stink of Flesh', I had to speak to the Director. In a time of remakes and unoriginality, here was I watching a little film made for $3,000 that was the most original thing I had seen in ages. Despite finding success early on in his screenwriting career, Scott Phillips got burned out on all that Hollywood bullshit you hear so much about, and turned his back on it to reassess his career plans. Scott has since bounced back and is definitely one to watch. With his great new movie 'The Stink of Flesh' out today in the UK and next week in the US, I caught up with Scott to chat about his distatste for Hollywood, and his various projects which include writing a recent Friday the 13th novel.

When did you first become interested in film?
It first started when I was a little kid, about 7 or so, but seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on Creepy Creature Feature when I was 10 really sealed the deal. My brothers used to take me to the drive-in a lot, as did my parents, but I saw more R-rated stuff when I was with my brothers. I think I had actually made a couple short films before I saw NIGHT, but my memory is very foggy about the actual timeline there. I was already reading FAMOUS MONSTERS for sure, and then I just grabbed whatever reading material related to filmmaking I could get my hands on. Later on, I was even skipping school and going to the library to read filmmaking books -- the few you could find back then. I was the best-behaved juvenile delinquent ever. I worked on my first "real" movie when I was 19, and that was John Milius' RED DAWN, with William Smith, Ron O'Neal, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton... all these cool actors I knew from my youth at the drive-in. I was a nervous wreck.

Would you say that the Romero genre is your preferred sub-genre? I noticed you don't call it the zombie sub-genre.
That's something my friend Don Adams mentioned one day - "There's no Zombie genre, there's a George Romero genre" - and I realized he was absolutely right. If you make a zombie movie (or at least one that isn't something like SERPENT & THE RAINBOW) you're playing in Romero's sandbox in some way. That said, however, I don't know that the genre is particularly my preferred one... I do love zombie movies a lot, but I'm just a huge horror fan - and even more, a huge MOVIE fan - in general. My DVD collection includes everything from Chris Seaver's insane ultra low-budget comedies (like HEATHER & PUGGLY DROP a DEUCE) to John Wayne to STAR TREK to Sam Peckinpah to Francois Truffaut.

How did you go about getting into the industry and did it involve any formal training? Go on; give me another reason to quit my redundant course!!
Well, lemme tall ya, pal - go ahead and quit that course. Not that I'm the biggest success story out there, so you probably shouldn't listen to me (hell, I'm eyeing the phone number on the back of that cart that prowls the Wal-Mart parking lot right now), but in this day and age I'm not sure what it's gonna get you outside of some technical knowledge. You can't get a better film school than a DVD collection, a digital video camera and some free editing software. And don't let anyone tell you you can't make a good movie with a one-chip DV cam and iMovie! Is PEARL HARBOR a better movie than, say, EVIL DEAD just because they spent more money and had better equipment? Okay, with that rant out of my system, I'll get to the first part of your question, although I suspect you already know the answer: I had no formal training; I watched lots and lots of movies -- all genres, not just horror, which is important. EVERYTHING is grist for the mill. I'm not just being a pretentious ass when I say that the work of Tennessee Williams had an influence on THE STINK OF FLESH, even though I'm far too untalented a writer for it to really come across in the movie. Which brings me to another important thing: read a LOT. Not just filmmaking books, and again I don't mean to be a pompous ween - read whatever you like, but read. It all starts your brain to percolating. That said, my approach was just to do as much as I could - make my own little movies, write scripts, etc. I was trying to "make it" from my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico - sending scripts out to whoever I could get an address for - but that wasn't working, so I finally decided to take the plunge and move to Los Angeles. I wrote the script that became DRIVE, packed up my car, and took off. After that I just got lucky - managed to be in the right place at the right time.

You have stated that a bad girlfriend put you off movie making. I had the same problem man, care to share your thoughts on why women are so evil and ripe for exploitation in the horror genre?
No way, man - I love women! Don't be trying to get me in dutch with the ladies, now. While a bad girlfriend was partly responsible for putting me off filmmaking at one point, a GOOD girlfriend - hell, the best girlfriend ever - helped get me back on the right path: Shannon Hale, who produced THE STINK OF FLESH and before that, got me off my ass and out of the funk I was in as a result of my miserable Hollywood experiences. She knew that I had a life-long love of movies and that Hollywood had beat that out of me, so she coaxed me back into making my own stuff and having fun with it again. That said, female nudity is always a massive plus in horror movies, and I wholeheartedly believe in getting some bare boobs in your flick. As does Shannon, which is one of the things that makes her such a great girlfriend.

One woman who was very kind to you was Linnea Quigley. How did you enjoy living with her and did you have lots of laughs?
Linnea was freaking awesome. That whole thing was arranged by a mutual friend who knew I was gonna need a place to live in LA, and knew that Linnea was looking for someone to rent a room in her house, so there ya go. That was all part of the luck that I mentioned earlier: Linnea introduced me to her friend Craig Hamann, who read DRIVE and liked it enough to pass it to his manager, Cathryn Jaymes. She liked it and signed me, and everything fell into place after that and the deal was made for the movie. Linnea was a great roommate; she's funny as hell and incredibly sweet. Not to mention easy on the eyes.

You had success early in your career but got burned out on all the Hollywood bullshit. What was the deciding factor on you turning your back on Hollywood in favour of the low budget industry?
The final straw was the deal with Kelsey Grammer's company, I guess. See, although DRIVE has a big cult following and had been -- and still is -- influencing other movies, it had meant absolutely nothing in terms of my career, I guess because it went straight to video here and therefore didn't make a ripple in the waters of Hollywood. I had gotten a meeting at Grammer's company off a script I wrote called KITTYSITTER, a goofy romantic comedy. In standard Hollywood fashion, they didn't want to buy the script, but they DID have a project they wanted my take on (this happened at almost every meeting I had -- I think it works like this: everybody might love your script, but they don't want to take a chance on a "new" writer, so they get you on the hook with some in-house project and wait to see if someone ELSE buys your script, then they've got your next project and they're not taking any risk). I wound up writing something like nine drafts of a treatment for it over the next year -- for no pay, of course -- and then they finally decided to hire me to write the script. I wrote the first draft (which to this day is one of the best scripts I've ever written), turned it in, and they decided I cheated on it by including a running voiceover by the main character (much like GOODFELLAS "cheated," I guess). It was really irritating, because I found it much harder to write that script with the voiceover than it would've been to do without, so there was certainly no cheating. At any rate, they wanted me to completely re-write the script for no pay, although my contract clearly stated something different. I held my ground (which was probably stupid, admittedly) and got fired. That whole thing took a lot of the wind out of my sails. I tell you, screenwriters tend to get treated like dogshit out there -- and the worst part is, they really are expected to do lots and lots of work with no pay and no guarantee of ever being paid. If you want to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, you have to be prepared to honk a lot of knob. Mind you, I doubt Kelsey Grammer was aware of any of this, so it's no reflection on him, and I think he'll make a great Beast in X-MEN 3.

Scott: "Linnea was freaking awesome".

Where did you get your initial idea for The Stink of Flesh?
Well, when Shannon convinced me to tackle a low-budget feature, I realized that I had never made a zombie movie, and it seemed like the thing to do. Initially, I thought about going with an idea for a zombie movie that's been swirling around my head for over ten years, but it's kind of a road movie and I knew it would be too tough to do. There was one scene where the main characters run into a swinger couple, though, and I decided to expand on that.

How long did it take you to write the script and get everything in place to shoot?
I wrote the script in, I think, March of 2003 and we shot in August of 2003, so it came together pretty quickly. It was post-production that seemed to take forever!

At what point during the shoot did you realise that Kurly was born to play Matool?
Probably the first day he had dialogue. We shot that opening fight scene on our first day, then went off for two days and did the flashback with the soldiers being attacked, so it wasn't until day four that I actually heard Kurly speak as Matool (we didn't have time for rehearsals or table reads or anything). As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew he was the man. Later on, I realized he was just playing Han Solo.

Who surprised you the most?
I'd have to say Diva -- not that I had low expectations for her, just that she delivered so much with the character. She really brought this maternal quality to Dexy that I hadn't thought about when I wrote the script, so that coupled with Dexy's predatory nature makes the movie even creepier, I think.

Can you elaborate any on the day when the make-up guy walked off set and disappeared?
Just that I was about ready to blow my brains out. We had something like 18-20 extras standing around, plus cast and crew, in the heat of the desert and I thought we were dead. I don't know that I ever truly felt like the day was gonna be a loss, but I sure didn't expect everybody to pull together like they did and pick up the pieces. It was pretty amazing and really proved to me just how dedicated to the project my cast and crew really were. I might even have gotten a little misty-eyed...

Did you want Kristin to act like Leatherface and are you aware of the similarities between her and Gunnar's mannerisms?
That must run in the family or something, or maybe Kristin just did it herself, because I never asked her to! The only direction I had to give her was to tell her that when Sassy says she lived in an apartment, she means a "special" apartment, and she nailed the role. To be honest, I never really noticed the similarities until you mentioned it.

Can you please clarify once and for all that she is Gunnar's niece and not his daughter?
Kristin is indeed Gunnar's niece, unless there's something she hasn't told me.

What tips can you give any aspiring low budget filmmakers?
Make movies. Don't talk about it, don't dream about it, don't bitch about other peoples' low-budget efforts not being as good as what YOU could do, just make movies. Talk isn't worth a goddamn thing. DO it. And for God's sake, don't wait to shoot on film; film is dead and Hollywood is too freaked out by that knowledge to bury the corpse yet.

What makes the best zombie make-up and blood?
Zombies are probably the easiest creature makeup’s to do because you can get away with simply using greasepaint. Beyond that, toilet paper, spirit gum and liquid latex make nice rotting flesh. I like the old standard Karo syrup and food coloring blood, although I don't have the mad skills to get it to flow like real blood.

Have you been surprised with the reaction to the film?
Yeah, I really have. I get all giddy whenever we screen the movie for an audience, because it's just so super cool to hear people laughing and howling with disgust at all the right places. My biggest concern has been that people wouldn't give it a chance because of the almost non-existent budget, but when we've got fans like Scott Spiegel, Eli Roth, Boaz Yakin and Jay Slater; I guess the low budget isn't such a big deal after all. Now I sound like a name-dropping jackass, but hey. I just hope the reaction continues to be positive now that the movie is being released on DVD!

Did you ever worry that it would be too much for some people and that the humour would go over their heads?
Naw, that never even crossed my mind, to be honest. See, I'm a big dork, and I always assume my stuff sucks (and there are many who would say that it does), so when we premiered STINK to a packed theater, I was just hoping I could outrun everybody. Obviously, there are some people who don't get it, but ain't that always the way?

There is an underlying sense of vulnerability present throughout the film. Did you intend for this to happen or was it purely a product of the shooting process that saw the team naturally bond and come to love one another, resulting in jealousy and lust? I'm so sorry if that comes across as artistically pretentious as it sounds.
I think that's all a result of having a cast that really understood their characters. Fortunately, there wasn't a lot of jealousy and lust present on the set or we never would've made our 12-day shooting schedule. Although I think everybody wanted a piece of Ross Kelly.

Scott: "I never should've done my solo
commentary track, though, because I sound
like a complete moron".

The ending was quite downbeat but provided a perfect release after all the crazy goings on, was this always the way the film was supposed to end?
Yeah, that was always the way the movie was gonna end.

The ending also leaves a couple of survivors. Any chance of a sequel?
If we sell some DVDS! Actually, lots of people have asked us to make a sequel and I've got some cool ideas for it, so we'll see.

The DVD has a huge number of extras, was it important for you to show the crazy process of filmmaking to audiences? We never get special features for low budget movies over here, so you signed with the right distributor.
I'm glad you liked the extras on the disc. I guess more than anything I felt like it was important to drive home the point that you can go out and make your own movie; you don't need Hollywood or lots of money or a Steadicam operator. Even more than that, though, I'm always disappointed when I buy a DVD that doesn't have much in the way of extras, so I wanted to throw what I hoped would be some cool stuff on there. I never should've done my solo commentary track, though, because I sound like a complete moron.

What are your feelings towards the fast pace of zombies in recent movies such as Dawn of the Dead?
Umberto Lenzi had fast zombies in NIGHTMARE CITY and they ran like hell in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, too, so 28 DAYS LATER and the DAWN remake certainly didn't invent the fast-moving zombie. I've got a few fast ones in STINK, because I wanted to mix Romero/Fulci shamblers with Lenzi's hyped-up undead. Myself, I think any zombie is scary, whether it's shuffling along or running.

Do you have high hopes for 'Land of the Dead'?
Oh hell yeah! I can't wait to see it!

You have written one of the Friday the 13th Spin off novels for New Line Cinema. Can you tell us a little about Church of the Divine Psychopath?
I tried to do something different with the whole thing while still (hopefully) delivering some solid Jason groceries. It's about a Jim Jones/David Koresh-type religious fanatic who believes Jason Voorhees is an avenging angel sent by the Lord to rid the earth of sinners. He sets up a Jonestown-like cult at Camp Crystal Lake, but his plans are screwed up by a commando team that's sent in to eliminate Jason once and for all. So it's cultists versus commandos with Jason slicing his way through the middle.

What will you be working on next?
I just finished doing the makeup effects on a low-budget feature called NECROVILLE, co-written and directed by Billy Garberina (who played "Mandel" in STINK). I wasn't supposed to, but the makeup guy I recommended flaked (what is it with makeup guys?) and I had to fill in, dredging up my ancient skills (I last did makeup work on BEASTMASTER 3, and that was ten years ago). I think the movie is gonna rock -- it's kind of like CLERKS meets GHOSTBUSTERS in a town full of zombies, vampires, werewolves and whatnot. It's incredibly ambitious given the tiny budget.

Currently, I'm writing the script for the next movie I'm gonna direct - it's called GIMME SKELTER and is kind of like I DRINK YOUR BLOOD meets MAGNOLIA. It's not a Manson Family movie, despite the title, although - well, I'm not gonna say anything else about it. If all goes according to plan, we'll be shooting in November. There may or may not be some really cool stuff brewing with this one, but I can't really talk about it just yet. Keep an eye on my website (www.exhilarateddespair.com) for updates, though.

I'm also doing a rewrite on a horror movie called SEEPAGE, to be directed by Richard Griffin (director of FEEDING THE MASSES and the director of photography on THE STINK OF FLESH). That shoots in July.

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

Don't fall behind, make sure you get help
writing college papers fast.


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