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An Interview with Scott Phillips Print E-mail
Written by Elaine Lamkin   
Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Albuquerque, New Mexico is not the sort of place that immediately springs to mind as the hub of some great indie horror folks.  But a recent “little” zombie movie with the tantalizing moniker of “The Stink of Flesh” might just put Albuquerque on the indie film map.  Written and directed by the talented Scott Phillips, who, prior to “Stink”, had written a number of scripts for Hollywood, the film is original and funny and gross and Leatherface’s niece is in it.  But Scott tells it all so much better than I do so I’ll let him take over.

For those of us not in-the-know, tell us The Scott Phillips Story to date.

It’s a sad and stupid tale, really. I kind of grew up at the drive-in, there were a bunch of ‘em in town in those days and my family used to take me all the time, so I saw lots of crazy stuff. I started making little movies on Super-8mm when I was a wee lad, like 8 or 9 probably. When I saw "Night of the Living Dead" at ten, the filmmaking bug really took hold and I spent my teenage years making movies, doing makeup and writing scripts instead of chasing girls like I should have. I worked on a couple Hollywood productions that came to Albuquerque (including John Milius’ "Red Dawn") when I was 19-20, but things really got moving about ten years later when I wrote a script called "Road to Ruin" and moved to LA. I sold that script and it became a movie called DRIVE, directed by Steve Wang and starring Mark (Brotherhood of the Wolf") Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison and a barely legal Brittany Murphy. Since then I’ve written a whole bunch of scripts, some that got made (like "Horrorvision" and "Cryptz") and some that didn’t (like "Fist of the North Star 2" and "Blood on the Moon" for Steven Seagal). I got pretty fed up with the Hollywood system and moved back to Albuquerque, and with the guidance of my girlfriend Shannon Hale (who produced "The Stink of Flesh"), I rediscovered my indie roots.

Where did the idea for “The Stink of Flesh” come from?

Well, when me and Shannon decided we wanted to make a feature, I knew it should be a zombie movie, since I had never made one and "NOTLD" was such a huge influence on me as a kid. I thought about doing a story that’s been kicking around in my head called "Dead as Hell", but it was just too big for us to make on our budget (although after making "Stink", I now think we could pull it off). There was one particular scene in "Dead as Hell" that I thought might work if I expanded on it, and that became the script for "The Stink of Flesh".

With ALL the zombie movies that seem to be coming out everyday, how did you try to set yours apart, make it unique?

Well, you’ve gotta understand -- back when we decided to make "Stink", there wasn’t a new wave of zombie movies. "28 Days Later" had yet to be released in the US (it came out about a month before we started shooting) and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake was still months and months away. So it wasn’t like I was trying to set "Stink" apart from all of those movies... instead, I just knew that I wanted to avoid the usual “bunch of people trapped in a house and arguing about how to survive” kind of thing. I figured, I’m making a zombie movie, and that means I’m playing in the Romero Universe, so why not just tell a story about people who are trying to get by in that sort of world?

How did you determine the cast for the film?  It’s an extremely varied and interesting bunch of people.

Yeah, I love my cast. Most of them were friends of mine and a couple of them auditioned. We were very lucky in that we knew a bunch of talented folks who in turn knew other talented folks.

Did you know Kristin Hansen’s uncle was the legendary Gunnar Hansen when you cast her?  What was Kristin like to work with?

Oh yeah, I’ve known Kristin for about ten years or so, I think, so I was aware of her lineage. In fact, I wrote the part of “Sassy” specifically for Kristin and knew that, in order to carry on the family legacy, I was gonna have to make her a doozy. Kristin is great to work with, she’s a terrific actress and really nailed the part.

Your zombies look like the “traditional” Romero shamblers and yet you have the “hyper zombies” which I would classify with Zack Snyder’s zombies from the remake of “Dawn of the Dead”.  Was that a conscious decision, to incorporate different types of zombies?  You even have a “Fulci zombie” in one scene.

Actually, the hyper-zombies are a direct steal from Umberto Lenzi’s "Nightmare City" (aka "City of the Walking Dead"), which was the first movie I saw that had fast-moving zombies in it. People tend to forget that the zombies ran like hell in "Return of the Living Dead", too, so "28 Days Later" and the "Dawn" remake certainly didn’t originate the idea. But yeah, it was a conscious decision to mix zombies from various sources of inspiration.

Where did you come up with the original idea of having your hero a martial arts/nail driving horn dog?  And where did you find Kurly Tlapoyawa – he is amazing!

Well, Kurly is an ass-kicking Brazilian Ju-Jitsu brawler, and when he got involved the idea was that he’d choreograph the fights. We used to get together for lunch and hash out ideas -- Kurly actually came up with the notion of using the hammer and giant nails to dispatch the living dead during one of those lunches. But back then, I had no intention of casting him in the part; he fought me for it until he wore down my resistance. I’ve known him for about 12 years; he used to come into a video store I owned and hang around for hours back when he was 17 or 18.  I’m really glad I finally gave in and put him in the role, because I can’t even imagine the movie without him now.

And speaking of original ideas, which your movie is full of, what inspired you to have this bizarre “family” out in the desert where the wife is a nympho, her husband “fetches” her toys for her AND watches and her sister has an icky Siamese twin?  Sounds like Southern Gothic on steroids.

Well, that all stems from my appreciation for the work of Tennessee Williams, so Southern Gothic is a great way to describe it. I just like the bizarre family dynamics in stuff like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Streetcar Named Desire". I’m also a huge fan of Joe Lansdale, and I suspect some influence crept in from his fine work, as well. The Siamese twin angle was just me wanting to make Kristin’s character really out there, really give her something crazy to do. She’s Leatherface’s niece, after all.

Let’s list the number of “taboos” that are in “Stink”: pedophilia, necrophilia, adultery, voyeurism, murder.  Did you want to see how far you could push it with audiences without completely losing them?  And that has to be a first in zombie movie history – a human getting it on with a zombie.  Was that why you had that in there?

Y’know, honestly I wasn’t even thinking about “pushing the envelope” or anything like that. I just told the story I wanted to tell while keeping in mind that I was making a horror movie and groceries must be delivered. For instance, when I realized I wanted a naked zombie girl chained in the shed, it only made sense that, to pay that off, somebody was gonna have to pay her a little pants-down visit. I really dislike movies that don’t deliver on what they promise, and I wanted to make sure "Stink" wasn’t one of those. The pedophilia thing actually sprang from some on-set goofing, where we were just trying to gross each other out suggesting things for Mr. Rainville to do -- it wasn’t really in the script, except maybe on a subconscious level. While we were joking around, I realized it worked, so we went with it in the movie.

There are references to many classic horror movies in “Stink”, which is one of the fun things about your movie.  Was that intentional?  Like giving your main character the name “Matool” and sitting back to see how many people catch on?

Oh hell yeah. Although some people read references into the movie that weren’t there in my head (like, I sure as hell wasn’t thinking about "Total Recall" with the Siamese twin -- I’m a big fan of carnival sideshows and that’s where that came from).

Is it true that your budget was only $3,000 and you shot for only 12 days in New Mexico?  How did you manage to make such a great looking film for only $3,000 and in 12 days?  Thousands of producers and directors are anxiously awaiting your answer.

Yup, we made the flick for three grand and in 12 days. I can pretty much give you two words as to why the movie looks so good: Richard Griffin. He’s an amazing director of photography and could do anything with one light and a piece of foamcore with some holes cut in it.

Your DP, Richard Griffin, did an amazing job shooting the film with a DV camera.  Just out of curiosity, why not go for the grainy 16-mm look which seems to be coming back into vogue with so many horror movies lately?

The truth is, we were moving so fast we didn’t have time to think about giving the movie a specific look, although we talked about movies like "The Crazies" and whatnot before we started shooting. I love that grainy 16mm look, but it’s kind of been done to death these days so I’m glad we didn’t go for it.

The zombie SFX in “Stink” are amazing (even though you did run out of “Zombie Blue” paint midway through the shoot) – who gets props for making the zombies really LOOK like zombies?

Thanks, I’m glad you like the way the zombies look. Our main makeup guy was a fellow named Damon Aho, but -- if you’ve watched the extras on the DVD, you know this already -- he flaked out on us and ran out of makeup on our biggest zombie extra day. Then he disappeared into the desert. Shannon Hale, Steffi Leighs, Sara Lehmann and Lisa Toth picked up the reins after Damon ran out and did a great job. Shannon and Steffi made the big wound on Andrew Vellenoweth’s chest for the scene where Dexy is peeling the shirt away. So the credit really has to be spread around.

What kind of viewer feedback have you gotten for “Stink”?  There are quite a few button-pushing scenes for the right-wingers out there to get all in a wad about.

We’ve had a great response overall, with no right wing backlash whatsoever. And only one reviewer has made me want to punch him in the throat.

What horror movies have had the biggest influence on you?

"Night of the Living Dead" and the original "Dawn of the Dead", obviously, but a list of influences would be long... early John Carpenter, the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", "Shock Waves", "Evil Dead", "It's Alive", on and on and on...

What’s up next for Scott Phillips?  Perhaps a sequel to “Stink”?  Start a new zombie franchise? 

Right now I’m discussing the possibility of doing a little side project with a friend of mine, but I can’t talk about it just yet. Beyond that, though, I wouldn’t mind doing a sequel to "Stink". I kind of see Matool as sort of the zombie-apocalypse Conan the Barbarian, so there’s a lot you can do with that. Besides that, my "Friday the 13th" novel, "Church of the Divine Psychopath", was just released and you can get it at your favorite bookstore!

Tell us about “Gimme Skelter”, which I read you describe as “an oddball slasher flick”.

I’m writing the script right now and there’s a bunch of cool stuff going on with the project that, sadly, I can’t talk about just yet. If all goes well, we’ll be shooting in November. It’s kind of like "I Drink Your Blood" meets "Magnolia" and I think it’ll be pretty cool.

What is the significance of the name of your production company, “Exhilarated Despair” (great name)?

Actually, that came from something Kristin Hansen said to me when she was going through a tough time personally: “I’m living in a state of exhilarated despair.” I thought it was a great name for a production company, although most people have a hard time spelling it. I found out much later that it’s a term that Francis Bacon apparently coined.

Would you care to add anything I may not have asked that you think our readers must know?

I used to write porno stories for “Barely Legal” magazine, pretending to be various 18-year-old girls, during which time I learned way too much about things like Urban Decay lipstick.

What is something about Scott Phillips that you would like people to know that they probably don’t.

I’m very very ticklish.

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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

 
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