SHANE: Thanks for sitting down with us today Kris. Now, what is the concept of 'The Perfect House' and how did this project come about?
KRIS: TPH emerged from a brutal short story about an ugly family of 5 that is massacred called 'Dinner Guest', which is the third and final story in the film. I wrote that story on a whim when I wanted to write something that ended with a guy being attacked with a weed wacker. Everything kind of evolved outward from that one desire. I met Randy Kent and we both wanted to make a full length feature, but neither of us wanted to water down the sheer brutality of this story with unnecessary build up and back story. Glimpses or snippets into the lives of previous owners of the house emerged from that desire.
SHANE: Is this your first film?
KRIS: For most of us, including myself, this was our first film with outside investors. Prior to this I made a "movie" called 'First Timers' that was made with friends, a case of beer, and a camcorder in the streets of L.A. It was based around a very real idea in LA: what if we suddenly became homeless? That is where my passion for storytelling was born; and it is also where I met the person who would change my life, Andrea Vahl. The 'First Timers' DVD is also on sale in our online stores. I must warn you that it's a BAD movie, but a funny and insightful DVD.
SHANE: Who stars in this film?
KRIS: Jonathan Tiersten goes way beyond a star in this film, he leaps off the screen and burrows his way into your sub-conscience. He captured the essence and layers of John Doesy in a way I didn't even know was possible when I created the character. JT's energy and passion interweaves perfectly with Holly Greene's intensity and Hans Hernke was the perfect pawn in their twisted power struggle. The second I walked on set for the first time in that story I got goose bumps, I still do when I think about that moment. That was the moment I new we had something special.
Chris Raab (jackass, Viva La Bam) was another actor, who has a very small role, but leaped off the screen. The moment I saw him flash that big, evil grin the entire franchise popped into my head. I believe strongly that Chris Raab is a future superstar, and I've created a character built around his strengths that I'd like to believe is the perfect role (pun intended) to help him reach that level right away.
SHANE: Let's dive into this short story style for a moment because this kinda style of filmmaking always intrigues me. During filming you often have to jump back and forth between scenes your shooting due to scheduling conflicts and stuff like that. So did you find doing this film in a 3 story, short story style hindered the way you shot it or did it help?
KRIS: The way we shot the story helped us and worked perfectly with our overall lack of experience. We shot the stories in chronological order so we could empty the entire house (for the story set in the 60's) and then slowly add everything back into the house as we brought the story to modern times. We shot the bookend story in 1 day while the interior of the house was set up for the first story.
We shot the first story (the storm story) in three very long and seizure inducing days. This is the one story I would have done last if we had it to do over. As a new and inexperienced crew, we were all still feeling each other out and the very first scenes we did were 2 days straight in a pitch black basement where the main light came from a strobe light acting as lightning.
On the flip side, by the time those three days were finished we were a bonded well oiled machine.
After that story, we had an "off day" where we had a cook out and a bbq while we casually worked to change the entire house over from the 60s to the 80's. We shot the second story (Chicken Story) over the next 4 days before we had another "off day" to change the set over to the third and final story that would be shot in 3 more days.
It worked out great for the many Los Angeles/out of town actors with full schedules. No one was needed for more than 4 days so we shuffled them in and out from the airport on our "off days". We never had more than a handful of actors to handle and work with so it made the production very streamlined and intimate.
SHANE: Each story in the film takes place in the same house, but at different periods of time with different owners. Do you feel this leaves the film open for future sequels of the same variety or could lead to one full-length story based on this "Perfect House"?
KRIS: What an intelligent and great question that I get to answer as a proud writer! I believe that the structure of the original film has sprouted so many different storylines and possibilities that we have the luxury of a great range of freedom on how we proceed. That freedom is something I've planned to take advantage of as much as possible.
When it came time to expand The Perfect House franchise I already had a pretty solid vision of what I wanted to do. That vision was based solely on the characters and the actors I thought added the most to our production as people and friends first and as strong interesting characters with more of the story to tell second.
Once I knew who I wanted to bring back the structure was something that was very important to me. I want to stay true to the 3 story anthology style of the original that I feel a lot of fans have and will embrace, but I also wanted to eventually tell one singular story as well.
Just like the original script, the development of the franchise became more about creative problem solving and the manipulation of the predetermined variables we knew we wanted in play, then it was 'here is a story I want to tell'. The story was born from the journey.
What I came up with was a sequel that's structured similarly to 'The Godfather 2'. There are 2 parallel stories in the sequel that both act as a continuation and a prequel of sorts. The sequel ultimately bring us to a head for a major, singular - story showdown in the final chapter of the trilogy.
Beyond that, I have designed the two sequels to continue adding to the overall story in ways that will allow for new fans of the franchise to watch the trilogy in any given order and still experience the same linear story of the life and death of this house. Each of the three films will add to the timeline without being dependent on a particular order.
Another benefit that this freedom has given us is a spinoff franchise based on Jonathan Tiersten's iconic character John Doesy. The Prequel will also add more insight into the original TPH franchise, including revelations about the real estate agent, why Doesy choose Holly Greene's character, and most importantly how he ended up at that house.
SHANE: I know that finances, finding locations and things like that can make or break a film. What was the toughest challenge for you during filming 'The Perfect House'?
KRIS: I think the toughest challenge we faced directly related to filming was the 2 days before production started. Andrea Vahl and myself spent that entire time in the basement with shop vacs and buckets bailing out the 6 inches of rain that had flooded the basement each night before!
Before that, finding a basement in southern California was an enormous challenge, so much so that we looked at everything from crawl spaces, abandon jiffy lubes to historical buildings. The closest location we came to using in L.A. wasn't a very good fit at all. It would have cost us more than $20,000 for the two week shoot, which at that time was more than half the projected budget.
That's when I decided if we were going to spend that much on a sub-par location we might as well spend $5,000 and just fly all the necessary people back to Buffalo and put the rest of that money on the screen. In Buffalo we had not only my grandfather's house, that I wrote the story with in mind, but also family and friends to help. My grandfather also owned the only house next to his so we had an entire compound to shoot undisturbed.
SHANE: The story of 'The Perfect House' is described as a "anthology style homage to the history and sub-genres of horror". Is there any specific films that you could say are, at the very least, common to some of these stories in the film or did you kinda put your own twist on old classic styles of horror?
KRIS: I don't know if any of the three stories have a specific film they were inspired by as opposed to the filmmaking and storytelling styles of the time periods certain films were made in. When I decided to make a "horror" movie, I didn't want to make a "traditional horror movie" instead I wanted to make a horror movie about what scares me. What scares me most is real, true horror and the anonymity that it hides behind. The kind of horror that sometimes has no motivation, the kind of horror where you're not sure whose a greater threat the killer or the survivor, the kind of horror that is based on a trivial personal slight or revenge.
These are common motives behind the horrifying things we see in real life: the nice neighbor who had a sex dungeon for the past decade, the old man who has had enough of slights and transgressions and just snaps one day, the perfect sitcom family who is riddled with dark secrets and animosity for each other.
A lot of the horror press went into this film looking for their innocent virgin survivor and came out of it furious when they didn't get their cookie cutter formula and this was never that story. 'Call Box' is a script I wrote and optioned in 48 hours that is my version of a "traditional horror movie".
The fear and feelings that The Perfect House instills in you were never about the back story or a survivor, but the real disturbing shit that happens for no rhyme or reason, just like real life. The characters' names and physical location of the house are never disclosed because you're not supposed to "know" these characters, you're supposed to feel as if this could be happening to anyone, anywhere. If you watch a handful or more of our fan confessions on our YouTube page you can see that it's the anonymity that leaves people with the "disturbing" feeling that is most often described.
SHANE: I know the film would be in the Horror genre, but how would you describe 'The Perfect House' as a whole? I mean, it is a very unique way of filmmaking and seems kinda DIY and experimental.
KRIS: It very much does not fit nicely into the preconceived filmmaking rules and guidelines. I purposely shied away from a "traditional" 3 act structure with the intention of making something that felt more real. From strictly an aspiring writers point of view, this wasn't the smartest approach. There was no prior work for critics to look at and say this person "knows what he is doing, he just chose not to do that for creative reasons and I dig it". Instead they saw it as an over sight or a mistake. Where is my sacred virgin, where is my scary ghost, why didn't he put the camera down on the counter and walk away?
The script and the story very much mirror the filmmaking process and the filmmakers. If we sat around and waited to do things the "right way" or waited for someone else to "give us permission" to make a movie, this film would have never been made. Instead we simply forced and willed things into existence and occasionally overlooked inconvenient truths like "it's a week before production and we have NO money".
At a certain point, I put an insane amount of faith in the belief this was "meant to be" and things were happening beyond my control or understanding and sometimes you just have to go with it. It's an unbelievably freeing feeling when you reach a point where you believe something special is happening and everything will work out. When that happens there is no fear of long term consequences, you are free to create the answer, whatever it may be.
SHANE: Being a Horror flick, you are obviously gonna have all the fun stuff like blood and guts. Who did your special effects for you and did you decide to go practical, CGI or a mix between the two?
KRIS: Anomaly Effects out of Buffalo, NY handled the practical on set spfx. Almost everything in the movie was a practical effect, only the "eye gag" is mix. Arick, Andrew, and Amy all did an outstanding job. This was by far and away the most complicated production they had been a part of to that point and they stepped up to the plate. Something that often goes overlooked when we talk about the three styles of each story is that this is something that was instilled in every department (set design, score, SFX, DP...) and every crew member.
For special effects, that meant they needed to draw on three completely different time periods for the execution of special effects. They didn't say "this is how we do effects and this is how this particular effect will be pulled off." They reeducated themselves on outdated and obsolete effects practices so the older stories would have authentic effects from that time period.
The result is each story contains special effects that are equal to what would have been done if our stories were shot in those specific time periods.
Even composer Frederik Weidmann's score is done like this. If you listen during each story, a unique score is evident with the prominent styles and instruments from the specific time periods, and they also have a unifying sound that creates one complete film.
SHANE: Not only is this film available on DVD (and soon to be 2-Disc DVD set), but I've noticed you've done something kinda different with the film by streaming it on Facebook. Do you feel social media has a big part in filmmaking today?
KRIS: I do feel social media has a big part in today's filmmaking, but I also believe it pales in comparison to how important it will be in the coming years. I think social media and technology offer the opportunity for filmmakers to retain control over their own work. I think the next era of filmmaking will be based around a philosophy of 'Responsible Filmmaking' where filmmakers spend their own money to make and release a product and the next film they make is based on the success and revenue from the previous film. If you are a talented, sound businessperson the sky is literally the limit, and you can grow your work and your stories with an audience that can sustain those budgets.
This philosophy removes the clutter and the unnecessary extra pockets to fill along the way. Removing the clutter allows for a direct and personal relationship between the creators and the fans that will ultimately lower the cost and convenience of consumption - inevitably making piracy all but obsolete.
Our goal is to be on the cutting edge and in fact lead this movement. Our first step in doing that was to decline the one-sided distribution offers at the Cannes Film Festival and everywhere else we have received them. Instead, we voluntarily chose to release 'The Perfect House' ourselves, not for lack of other choices, but because we have so much confidence in our work that we want the rewards to go to the people who took the biggest risk, our family,friends, and investors.
SHANE: Well, Kris I think that's all I have for you today. Is there anything you would like to add that we didn't touch on or do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?
KRIS: I actually have a lot of upcoming projects. The production company that optioned 'Call Box' is hoping to go into production in the next couple months. I have several films including a comedy called 'Wiley Place' (set in my hometown Buffalo, NY) that I cannot wait to make, but I refuse to get heavily involved in any other projects until the commitments made by all of our producers to our TPH investors are fulfilled.
As far as The Perfect House goes, we have big plans all summer long as we countdown to the one year anniversary of making history on facebook. We have several special editions of the movie that will be released, and we will have a documentary from our 12,000 mile cross country tour in a 72 RV last summer promoting the facebook release. We are planning to have that finished in the fall, and hopefully the sequels will be in pre-production very soon.
If you want to keep up-to-date on everything Gratwick Films has working and in development, we host a weekly podcast called Gratcast. Andrea and I take on Hollywood every week and tell the tale with brutal honesty.
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me and talk a little bit about The Perfect House!! To all the movie fans out there, please support the indie revolution. The remakes won't stop until the suits stop pulling the strings.
Everybody can get the Unrated DVD of 'The Perfect House' here: http://www.gratwickproductions.com/products-page/dvd/the-perfect-ho...
Coming Soon the 2-Disc DVD Set of 'The Perfect House' here: http://www.gratwickproductions.com/products-page/personalized-2/per...
Also stream the movie on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectHouseMovie/app_206365789435606
Check out 'The Perfect House' online: http://theperfecthousemovie.net/
Like 'The Perfect House' on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectHouseMovie
Thanks for doing this Kris, great interview!!