Exclusive Interview with the Directors of Means to an End

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MEANS TO AN END is one of those rare indie films (made by horror fans, for horror fans) that actually gets it right. Funny, sick and slightly twisted, this film should bring a smile on the face to any and all who watch.  

Winner of Best Short Horror Film Fangoria Blood Drive 2 and featured as one of the films on the Drive 2 DVD, it's easy for me to picture MEANS TO AN END reaching some type of "cult film" status, while vaulting the careers of two creative, as well as straight up cool horror freaks - Paul Solet and Jake Hamilton.

So without further ramblings.. Here's Horror-Movies.ca's exclusvie interview with Paul and Jake (directors of MEANS TO AN END).

First of all, I would love to wish you guys a hearty congratulations on your win with "Means to an End." You totally deserve it. It makes me proud to see quality of story and love of the genre still exists. (Sometimes I wonder). Without further ado here is MovieMavens interview with Paul and Jake

P: Thanks a lot, man.

J: Wondering about this was part of how MTAE came about.

Where did you get the idea for "Means to an End, as well as tell us a little bit about the film?"

P: Jake and I were watching a lot of short horror films, and we were continually disappointed by everything we were seeing. I had a couple months before I was scheduled to take off to LA, so we decided to just drop some old school, guerilla science in the time we had. It seemed like a fun challenge, and I’d spent the last couple years writing, so I was itching to get back on set. We had to work with the resources we had, which were next to nothing, so that shaped the story significantly. Basically, we had a credit card, and some talented friends, but we thought our own dynamic as best friends and horror fans might have some entertainment value. We’ve been known to talk for four hours at a time about movies and clear out entire rooms at parties with our subject matter, so we figured we might try to use that same mojo to clear out some theaters.

J: We both agreed that there was, lets say, room for improvement with much of the horror that’s had money put into it lately. Paul and I kinda challenged each other to come up with compelling story ideas that fit within our means. The subject of snuff came up, and we both felt there was something interesting there, but it took a couple of stabs at it before we found an original angle. The snuff idea led us to the philosophy of horror effects purists.

"Pain is Temporary... ... Film is Forever." That's a great quote and it's almost like the films "mantra", is this something you guys live by?

P: Yes. This isn’t an easy business, there’s a whole lot of work involved, from indie guerrilla stuff right on up the line to studio stuff. If you get into filmmaking, you will suffer. The people who don’t love what they’re doing just leave and become dentists or something. And you can’t blame them. There’s a whole lot more job security. Until the big checks come, this is kind of a gypsy lifestyle.

J: It was certainly the motto while making MTAE, we have the scars and bruises to prove it.

Is this something that you cooked up specifically for Fangoria's Blood Drive, or were you sitting on this for a while?

P: Neither, really. The timing just worked out that way, and we figured it was destiny. We recut it for Fango, but we already basically had the cut. It had been up on IFILM for a couple months before we heard from Fango, but we hadn’t been sitting on it, we were still cutting a new version. Actually, the cut on IFILM has filler titles and compression problems, although it’s still managed to get a few thousand views and pull a 5 out of 5 rating. I think it’s the only horror film they’ve got with 5 out of 5.

J: I think the general idea was lingering in our collective unconscious since adolescence, but ripping it out and realizing a script was motivated by a conversation Paul and I had in June of ’04 about the state of the genre, and raising the bar, and whatever the hell else we were ranting about that evening.

I am only assuming everything was actually effects, but some of them look so cool I have to wonder. What was the hardest thing for you guys to pull off?

P: I’d say the trash can crash. That was a straight stunt, and we shot it I don’t know how many times. Jake and I were bleeding by the end of that day.

J: But my bleeding was because of… on second thought scratch that. Hilariously, the blood stained sleeve turned out to be a real bitch to get just right. It’s always the unexpected little things. Though definitely not an effect, Devlin’s masturbation took several attempts to come off well. Fortunately Neil was up for it.

Which effect would you say you were most pleased with?

P: The ass-shearing with the cheese grater really came off beautifully. If you can use that word to apply to my blood covered ass. I think the arm-biting and back-drilling and shovel hit to the crotch work really well, too. They’re all fucking hysterical, I still laugh every time I see it. And the arm-sewing. Can’t forget the arm sewing.

J: I really dug the beating the executive to death with the Olsen twins poster scene… but it got cut.

Did they all pretty much turn out the way you imagined they would?

P: Even better.

J: There was what we visualized, how it looked on set, and then what ended up on screen. I would have to agree, especially after tackling so many, (I’ve never counted how many effects shots there are), there was a sick magic that happened when what we thought would work pretty good, kept coming off so brutal that I sometimes toned it down a shade.

Was there any one "gag" that you wanted to do, but for one reason or another couldn’t?

P: We’re pretty budget conscious when we work together. We don’t even really think outside the budget, so the stuff we came up with, we knew we could pull off. Matt Morgan, our effects guy, was really good. I’d worked with him before, so I had a pretty good sense of what he was capable of. A little creativity in the effects department goes a hell of a long way. If the director knows how to block stuff and has some willingness to compromise shots for the sake of the flick, you generally can get what you want, as long as your thinking isn’t unreasonably grand. I try to make my number one allegiance to making the best film possible, not trying to reproduce exactly what you came up with in preproduction, so that helps with effects. The ass-grating was just something we came up with on set. I originally volunteered Jake’s ass for the job. That’s what I get for opening my big fucking mouth.

J: The dream effect shot involved that pair of similar looking actresses, who didn’t show up on set that day… fucking primadonnas, think they’re too good for us.

How many buckets of blood and other interesting ingredients did you go through to get all those wonderfully gory images?

P: We used a good deal of liquid latex, mainly on my ass. Dental floss, five rolls of bandages, three boxes of variously sized band-aides, some tubes, some bladders. Oatmeal, some blueberries, a shovel, and a Lee press on nail. Jake cooks the blood, he’s got those stats.

J: None of that blood was real, you can be sure of that… well, maybe the gun shot. It was much easier than using a squib.

Is it safe to say that you have a love for the old fashioned way of doing things?

P: Yeah, sure. I think the stuff you grow up with kind of sticks. There seem to be ages where you’re just more malleable. When I first saw Carpenter’s The Thing, those images burned into my subconscious. Those Rob Botin effects - the arachnoid head, the arm chomping chest - that’s just what effects are supposed to look like, to me.

J: I like it any way I can get it. To quote our FX wiz Mr. Morgan, "it’s much more visceral this way". I feel horror’s a great opportunity for getting your hands good and dirty.

Do you ever see yourselves making a film loaded with CGI and other fancy-effects?

P: If that’s what the film calls for. I really don’t have a problem with CG stuff unless it’s used to gloss over story problems with spectacle.You can do some really awesome shit now, and a lot of these visual effects folks are just old school latex jockeys who went with the flow instead of becoming dentists. I just can’t stand when that stuff is used unnecessarily to the detriment of a movie, or just in general excess. Too much CGI, and I feel like I’m watching someone play a video game, it just doesn’t feel right to me. But we’re still learning how best to use the technology, and the technology itself is getting nothing but better. Already, when it’s done right, it’s pretty amazing. You just can’t eliminate all the organic stuff, though. Imagine if George Lucas had CG back in the day. The original three flicks would be overcooked and forgettable, and the stories themselves would probably be warped because of the capacity for grandiose indulgence those digital tools would’ve allowed.

J: If I get into the position to be picky about how many, or how few effects should be done CG in one of my films I’ll let you know. I’m still waiting for the day when there are bets riding on whether that was an actor or animation. When that day comes… I don’t know what it’ll mean, but I hope I win the bet.

How about an anecdote or two (or more LOL) from the set? I know you guys must have had a helluva time making this flick.

P: I had to shave my ass - which was all caught on B-roll - then allow Matt Morgan to apply several layers of liquid latex, then hang around Jake’s parents’ house naked, , unable to sit down, waiting for my ass to dry.

J: Line Producer Scooter McC being persuaded to put on PA Erica’s G-string panties for a quick, unscripted shot, was quite an entertaining moment for most of us.

Okay, so now please give us a little background on yourselves. What is your history and how did you end up doing what you do?

P: I’ve been a freak for movies forever. Before I was eleven, I rode my bike to every video store in the city and rented every horror movie and cult movie on the racks. I would scare the shit out of myself, but I always wanted more. I was afraid of lowering my legs below this window next to my bed, because I thought Leatherface was going to smash through and butcher me. About that time, my family bought a camcorder, which I commandeered immediately, and set to work murdering everyone who’d let me on video. My main inspiration was Blood Sucking Freaks at the time, so there was a lot of straight torture going down. I’d put on swimming goggles to keep the ketchup from getting in my eyes. I kept on making movies, learned to shoot 16mm and do stop motion, and got a little more ambitious with effects. And stunts. I had a counselor at this creative arts program named Big Ben Davis. He was the one who told me, "Pain is temporary, film is forever," and then proceeded to jump off a second story roof to get a shot. I never forgot that. I actually just ran into Ben at the Hostel premiere, he’s still at it, acting now. Probably method.

I started writing pretty seriously in about sixth grade, and just kept on writing through high school and into Emerson College. After film school, I got a really great writing opportunity collaborating with Eli Roth, who’s been a really good friend and mentor to me since I was a kid. I spent the next couple years writing for him and writing a few of my own features, so by the time Jake and I hooked up, I was ready for some gun-and-run action, back behind the camera. The day after Means wrapped, I pulled up stakes and drove from Boston to LA. Jake started cutting as I drove. He’d have rough cuts waiting for me at each stop, and I’d send notes on those. By the time I reached Hollywood, we had a short.

J: I frikken love movies, films, pictures, all that jazz. I don’t know if it was escape or art, but if I could have, I ‘d have spent every waking moment soaking in their warming glow. I was analyzing them before I knew anything, writing them before I could spell, shooting them with stolen cameras and editing with the pause button. I’ve dreamt of making movies, you know, real ones, like up on a BIG screen, as long as I can remember, forever.

Any advice for those young'uns right behind you that are dying to break into the business?

J : What about a story about a guy going after his dream, but when he gets there, it’s not quite like he imagined. It’s got some things about it that are difficult, or shitty, or unfair. That’s when he has to choose whether he really wants this, warts and all, or not… I’m in, are you?

P: Do it because you love it, because if you don’t, you’ll end up miserable. Work as hard as you can, learn as much as you can, get as much experience as you can, and take all the help you can get. The most helpful thing I ever heard, I heard when I first got to LA. I was doing a lot of reality TV stuff to pay the bills, and I bitched about it to Eli. He told me, attitude is everything. He said it’s the people who can stand around for forty days in the pouring rain, yelling action an cut, without bitching, that get the jobs. It really is true, no one wants to work with an asshole. I try to have some gratitude no matter what I’m working on, whether it’s reality TV, claymation, or a feature, and no matter what I’m doing on it. I’ve still got so much to learn, and I’m just psyched to get a chance to actually learn it. I just try to be a sponge.

Now whether or not you ARE fans is not up for discussion. That is rather obvious. There are send ups to some of the industry’s finest all throughout your film. What I want to know is who inspires you the most?

P: I watch a lot of foreign genre stuff. Korea has some awesome shit. Fruit Chan’s Dumplings, Chan Wook Park, those guys are fucking amazing. Takashi Miike is definitely a hero of mine. I love the Italian stuff, too. Fulci, Lenzi, Deodato, and all the giallos. Don Coscarelli is a long time inspiration, as well, and I’ve always been huge on Cronenberg, especially the old stuff, like Shivers and Rabid, and Videodrome. David Lynch, old Carpenter stuff, Larry Cohen, Stuart Gordon, Tarantino, Bob Clark, George Romero, Jorg Buttgereit, Frank Henenlotter. Watching the current younger generation, like Eli and Lucky McKee, and Rich Kelly, is definitely inspiring, too.

J: At one time or another, in one film or another, many things have sparked the inspiration bug. I grew up with Romero, Carpenter, Savini, Craven, etc… But also really dig certain non-genre directors who dipped into the chilling plasma pool. Ridley Scott’s ALIEN is so fucking beautiful. Whenever I get that unexplainable chill down the spine at that moment that I forget this is only a movie, or find myself thinking, how did they get me to sympathize with this character?, or become seriously uncomfortable yet unable to stop watching.

And what would you say are some of your favorite horror films?

P/ J: RABID, SHIVERS, DEATHDREAM, BLACK CHRISTMAS, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, NEW YORK RIPPER, PHANTASM, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, HOSTEL, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ALIEN, THE SLUG AND THE SNAIL, BASKETCASE, IT’S ALIVE, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, OMEGA MAN, CRONOS, AUDITION, DEAD AND BURRIED, THE HITCHER, THE THING, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF.

If you couldn't do this anymore, what would you be doing?

P: Inhaling carbon monoxide in a closed garage.

J: Filming him inhaling carbon monoxide in a closed garage.

What would you like to say to anyone out there who claims that gory flicks are sick and twisted and lead to nothing but psychosis and warped minds?

P: Don’t watch them.

J: Thanks, we’ll be signing autographs afterwards.

Now please tell our readers (who are dying to know if they have seen your film) what is your next project and when should we start salivating to see it?

J: While editing, scoring, designing art, and picking up the occasional SPFX gig, I am currently rewriting our feature length version of the MTAE story. It’s bigger, bloodier and easily more disgustingly hilarious and unpredictable than the short… so watch your asses!

P: I’m just moving into preproduction on a short called GRACE. Jake will do the soundtrack. I’ve got a little bit of money on this one, so we’ll shoot on 35mm. I’ve got an amazing team, Laurence Avenet-Bradley, who’s last three features have won a whole slew of awards, will DP. She’s a fantastic photographer. And it looks like we’ll have some name talent on board, so the acting may be slightly superior to mine and Jake’s. I’ve got a GRACE feature ready to shoot, so I’ll use the short to rustle up some financing, then shoot the feature. I’ve got a spec script for a thriller called HEARTLAND, that was one of the winners of this year’s VisionFest in NYC. It’s gotten some really good attention from a few studios, so that may go. It’s a slightly higher budget production, so doing it independently probably isn’t an option right now. I’ve got another script, a slightly more obscure body-horror film called, REPEATER. That one’s a finalist in another festival out here in Hollywood, and it’s getting a lot of attention from a few different indie companies. I’ll shoot that one myself, most likely.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

P: Making the movies I would want to see, doing everything I can to raise the bar on the genre. Working 16 hour days for months at a time and loving every minute of it.

J: Directing ourselves, and the unemployed cast of Desperate Housewives, in a remake of GIGLI.

Tell us one thing about yourselves that you wish everyone knew.

P: They can’t catch me, they’re never going to find me, they’re never going to know that I’m the High Plains Drifter.

J: My mind is ablank. There are a few things out there however, that I wish nobody knew… I was young and I needed the money.

How will YOU know when you've made it? Like, when will you take a look around and say "By golly, that's it. I'm famous."

P: Fango cover and Rue Morgue cover in the same month.

J: You mean we haven’t made it yet?

Are either one of you a reader of Horror-Movies.ca?

P: Hell yes. You run a damn good site, man.

J: Avid.

Thank you so much for your time. I know I enjoyed the Hell out of your flick and many others have as well. Can't wait to see what's next from the gruesome twosome. Loads of luck and tons of fun in the future, guys.

P: Thank you. Keep on fighting the good fight.

J: Loads and tons back atcha.

P: I want the last word.

J: Okay.

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