Adam Ahlbrandt Interview by pathetic_waste
Note: The following interview with film maker Adam Ahlbrandt was conducted by Extreme Horror Cinema writer pathetic_waste. Questions are in italic for ease of reading! Pictures added by Splat.
1. Like most people in the independent horror community, you started as a fan. What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Did it seem natural once you were knee-deep in your first project? Was it as easy as you had anticipated?
I have been making films since I was 7 so I really don’t know any other way of doing things, so yes I guess it seemed natural
2. You made your directorial debut in 2008 with Sight. A supernatural horror film. What made you pick this project as your debut? The picture ended up being distributed by Lionsgate. How did it end up in their hands and what has the response been to Sight?
I am sorry to the world for that film. I made a lot of mistakes and cut a lot of corners. I’ll never do that again.
3. Your second film was The Burnt House, in 2009. Another horror picture with supernatural elements. Was this a natural follow-up to Sight? Can you tell us a little bit about the production? Did The Burnt House see the same success as your first feature?
The Burnt House is one of my favorite films I have made. The process and result could not have turned out better and I learned a tremendous amount from making it. In fact I feel as though I learned the most about film making from Sight because of the tremendous amount of mistakes I made with it. The Burnt House benefited from my myriad of errors I had made prior to it. As a film maker, or craftsman of any kind, it’s important to fail miserably so you get the taste for it. It helps focus and harden you.
4. The Burnt House was also the first time you worked with long-time partner Doug Sakmann. How did you get Doug on board for the film and how has your relationship grown over the years? Will you two continue to collaborate in the future?
Doug Sakmann also worked on my first released feature “Sight”(I had shot two unreleased films prior, one that I set all copies and negatives on fire of and another that I am in a dispute over the rights to and will most likely never be released) and been a highlight of the production. I love Doug like a brother and would love to work with him again.
5. In 2010, you did some cinematography on the korean war documentary Chosin. How did you get involved with the film? How does shooting a documentary differ from horror?
I shot and edited that documentary for Brian Iglesias and he is a very dear friend from college. He also produced The Cemetery afterwards for me. Shooting Chosin was an amazing and life changing experience. Getting to work with and meet so many amazing people who are heroes to me was a blessing that I cherish. Every project is different. Everyone has different requirements and goals. I think the main thing I remember about Chosin is the men I met. Their outlooks and opinions continue to shape me to this day. My “HOLD FAST” knuckle tattoos are from that experience. As far as production goes, shooting a documentary is very different than a fiction film. The challenges were more about trying to get interviews set up and the logistics of travel as opposed to trying to set up camera moves and special effects. It was a fantastic experience and I am honored to have been a part of it.
6. You took a break from directing in 2009. You would return with a splat in 2012 with Cross Bearer. A nasty, mean-spirited, slasher with religious tones and roots in 1980’s cinema. What made you take a break and how did it feel to be back in the director’s chair after all that time? Where did you get the concept for the film? What has been the response to Cross Bearer? Any chance for a sequel?
I actually did not take a break, I directed a film called The Cemetery which is just now being released(Illusions Unlimited have put it out in Germany and Massacre Video are handling the US release). It’s funny that most people assume that it was shot after Cross Bearer because of it’s lack of availability, but due to troubles finding a suitable distribution deal it’s release was delayed for quite a long time. It’s also ironic that Cross Bearer was originally meant to be the second half of a double feature of which The Cemetery was intended to head up. I came up with the concept for Cross Bearer by combining my love of slasher horror and exploitation films. It was written under a different title (Strip Club Slaughter) and was much more tongue in cheek. As the production began things took on a much darker tone and Cross Bearer was born. The film has had a really amazing response from fans and critics, both in the love and hate department. It’s played fests all over the world and seen multiple releases in every existing format… It’s a beast that will not die!!! I have written a sequel and a prequel, but I doubt I will ever get to make them.
7. Cross Bearer would also start your working relationship with actress Natalie Jean. How did you two get in touch? What has it been like working with her? Can we expect you two working together in the future?
The Cemetery actually began my working relationship with Natalie Jean and it was a pleasure working with her on both films! She is a total badass and if I could afford her Id use her in everyone of my projects!!!
8. You followed up Cross Bearer with the equally violent picture, The Cemetery. A demon possession film set within the woods. Can you tell us about the film? How did this differ from your other productions? When can we expect a home video release?
The Cemetery is due out in the US in October by Massacre Video and has already been released by Illusions Unlimited in Germany. The production of The Cemetery was a much larger scale project in comparison to my other films. However it has been my experience that the problems on every set are the same: money, time, logistics, locations, cast and crew. The Cemetery was a lot of long days and nights, no sleep and rescheduling in order to keep on track. The one thing I remember most vividly was how freezing it was at night. The entire time we were remarking how summer seemed to go away when the sun set.
Ruby was originally cast as the lead in the film but had to pull out when personal things came up. We struggled to try and shift the production but couldn’t and so we had to recast Natalie as the lead. It’s a shame Ruby couldn’t have been more involved as she is a pleasure to work with.
10. The Cemetery also features a soundtrack chalk full of death metal bands. Fleshgod Apocalypse, Crowpath, Gorod, Defeatist and many more. Did this music make the perfect back drop for The Cemetery? How did you secure the rights to use the bands records for the picture?
I’d done a bunch of music videos for extreme metal bands early in my career including Today Is The Day and Circle Of Dead Children(who are on Cross Bearer and The Cemetery’s soundtracks respectively) and had our producer reach out to Willowtip Records. They were stoked on the idea, which has been amazing. I cannot thank Relapse and Willowtip, along with all of the bands, enough!!!
I could never have made The Cemetery or Cross Bearer without their involvement. Backseat Conceptions are a great group of talented individuals and I owe them a great many thanks for all their hard work and dedication to those projects. Doug Sakmann, Nick Esposito and Zafer Ulkucu are amazing on set and off.
It is currently getting the finishing touches put on it in the edit suite… And you can expect sadistic torture, rape, death, sleaze, filth and the blackening of your soul. The Hunters has had a 50% walk out ratio on the test screenings we’ve do so far. We are aiming to have it screening by Halloween, although I am sure we will run into trouble getting venues to host it. We’ve already had a grown man have a panic attack after the films ending, a woman smack her boyfriend and walk out, vomiting and more people yell at me than I can count… Hunters is as extreme a film as I will ever make.
AMAZING!!! Honestly a dream come true!!! I won’t lie, I have been extremely lucky to have the cast and crew I have in all of my films. Getting to work with so many talented people, it’s not uncommon for me to look around the set and think “how the fuck did I get this to happen!?!?!”
14. Your last two films have contained a good amount of the red stuff. Is this a gross out factor or for the fact that you love gore and feel it should be more prevalent in modern horror?
It’s all about the story. If the story calls for it I pull no punches, however The Sadist is pretty much devoid of gore because that story did not require it and it would have seemed out of place. I aim to create worlds, and yes, I do love good gore
15. Your filmography has stayed within the horror genre. Do you ever plan to expand outside your roots or are you here to stay?
I only want to make horror films.
16. You handle multiple roles as a filmmaker. Director, Writer, Cinematographer and Editor to name a few. Is this out of necessity or because you trust yourself, over anyone else, to bring your vision to life?
It’s a combination of not having the resources and wanting total control. I prize creative control above all other things. I want to be able to shape the worlds I create at every step of the production. Being able to do every job on set enables you to never have to rely on anyone to capture the things you want. It also allows you to better communicate what that is to all departments what needs to be done.
Everything. Every detail needs to be attended to. The story, the actors, the sets, the sound, the costumes, the props, the lighting, the shooting… THE FOOD. Everything. Don’t skip steps or take the easy way out. Also: MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHEN ITS TIME TO CALL IT A DAY AND START FRESH.
18. If you could work with anyone, what would be your dream cast?
I’m happy with my current crop of actors and will continue to try and have them on every one of my films. When I wrote The Sadist I didn’t use fake names, I just wrote the actors names for their parts. I love being able to envision the performance Im going to get as a writer, it helps tremendously in the process.
19. Recently, you have been working with Massacre Video. They released Cross Bearer to VHS and will be handling a release of The Cemetery. What is it like working with one of the premier VHS labels in the country? Do you plan to work together in the future?
I love them and would love to continue to work with them. I am also very pleased with ToeTag and Illusions Unlimited who have done amazing things for my films.
20. What is your favorite film of your own and why?
I love Friday The 13th Part 2 because I can put it on at any moment and love every second.
Friday The 13th Part 2 was a HUGE influence on Cross Bearer… The Shining, Slumber Party Massacre, The Exorcist, Jaws, Hammer Films, old Universal Horror, Schramm, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre… This list could go on for a long while. Kubrick is the biggest inspiration cinematically, Herzog’s spirit and attitude also have played a huge role in how I work.
22. Do you have any advice you can give to aspiring directors and writers?
Shut up and do it. Excuses are like assholes, everyone’s got one and mostly they’re all full of shit. If you love it, go for it. Raise the black flag and take no prisoners, show yourself no mercy in the pursuit of your dreams.
I’m going to terrify without restraint.
24. Anything you’d like to share with your fans, Adam?
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING MY DREAMS!!!! I am just a kid who grew up in a trailer in Virginia. I’ve eaten out of garbage cans and lived on the streets. You constantly keep my spirit alive and I owe you everything, so that’s what I am going to give you