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Wildside Cinema: Ryan, thanks for taking the time to do this. Many horror fans will probably know you as the filmmaker behind Live Feed and the recently released Gutterballs, but you’ve had your hand in many pies. Among them: X-Files, Smallville, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, Lake Placid and even Ghost Rider. How long have you been in the business?
Ryan Nicholson: I’ve been building dead bodies and monsters one way or another since I was a pre-teen but my first foray onto a real movie set was around 1994.
WC: X-Files. That show was great until David Duchovny needed to be closer to his woman in L.A. Did you work any of the great episodes like Home, one of the Eugene Victor Tooms episodes or the one with the Flukeman?
Ryan: I was working for the guy that did the X-Files FX for a few months only but I got to do a couple of really cool episodes. The Stephen King one about the giant doll and also the William Gibson one, I forget the titles but they were both very interesting episodes. The ones you mentioned were very well done but that was before my time at that fellow’s studio. Interesting note, the guys that wrote “Home”, James Wong and Glen Morgan, went on to do “Final Destination” which was one of my first big movies that I was in charge of the FX on.
WC: You’ve worked on movies featuring Charlize Theron (yum yum), Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Lance Henriksen, Ben Affleck, Danny Trejo, Tim Robbins and Michael Rooker among many other very big names. Were you ever on set to meet and work with these guys, or were you clustered away in a studio doing effects and props?
Ryan: I had Ben Affleck in my shop to cast his head, I still have the cast. Same with Danny Trejo. I lent a hand molding Jude Law and was also around when Dafoe got molded for “eXistenZ. I was onset with Rooker and Henriksen. But I didn’t meet Theron, Van-Damme or Robbins. I’ve been around many stars but it’s hard to approach them on a fan boy level if I’m working on the movie. I wanted to approach Rooker and be all “Henry” this and that, but I didn’t. If I work with a star long enough, I’ll get the feeling sooner or later if we’ll talk about his or hers roles or if it’s something they don’t want to chat about. I met Christopher Lee in Rome while doing the “Pope John Paul II” mini-series and I couldn’t hold back! I was like “Man, I loved you as Fu Manchu!” He was great, he talked a lot about Jess Franco and told me all sorts of cool things. I was in fanboy heaven!
WC: Live Feed, released in 2006, is probably the first thing people will know you for. How did it come about? It must have been a huge undertaking to do—going from effects guy to doing it all.
Ryan: I had made a short film “Torched” a couple of years earlier, just to see if I could make a movie on time and on budget. “Live Feed” came to mind when I was in that very same porno theatre checking out “rumors” of live sex shows. I didn’t think that existed anymore and was sure to find out if it did! I went to the theatre and sure enough, I saw a bunch of dudes and a hooker getting it on. I thought to myself, “this is just too weird”. Then I started thinking about all the missing prostitutes in our city and the fact that this theatre could be their last place on Earth or “The Gates Of Hell”. It was so sleazy and scary in this theatre, I knew it was a perfect setting for a horror movie. They also had these couples rooms, these VIP rooms that locked from the outside! You’d be locked in by management until your time was up! It was so bizarre. Making the movie there, in the actual theatre was even more bizarre. We shoot from the time they’d close until the time they opened. It was grueling and very disgusting. Imagine going into a porno theatre at closing time! The place is sticky man! And not from spilled pop! It was a massive challenge to pull it off and looking back, I wonder how we ever did it. The theatre is now gone, demolished to make room for condos. I kind of miss it. The nostalgia of it all.
WC: I love the line delivered by the Asian butcher from Live Feed “You good with cleaver. You kill dog before?” Was that a line you scripted?
Ryan: LOL! I love that line to. Yes, it was scripted. For the most part, the actors in “Live Feed” didn’t stray too far from the script. There’s a lot of funny lines in “Live Feed”. It’s really more comedic than horrific. On “Gutterballs”, actors were coming up with all sorts of funny dialogue, most of it was kept in the movie.
WC: In Live Feed, the possibility of a real snuff movie is put forth. Do you think snuff flicks exist in real life? That the events portrayed in your movie could be happening? And do the perps in Live Feed sell copies of the killings?
Ryan: I think the closest thing to a “snuff movie” is evidence locked away by police, taken from real-life serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. They filmed their crimes and these tapes were evidence against Ng in his trial. Lake killed himself by swallowing a cyanide capsule as soon as he was caught. Ng fled to Canada, caught shortly thereafter and extradited back to the US. As for “Live Feed”, that’s a good question about the “selling of the tapes”. I had it in my mind that everything was live. They watch live sex and murders on the big screen. It’s a sick form of entertainment for the cliental. I do think that people have for sure video-taped their murders, but for their sick use, not for public viewing. That would increase the chance of these people getting caught.
WC: While watching Live Feed, the viewer knows you’re not going to pull many punches: by the two minute mark, you show very full nudity. Yet in Gutterballs, your newest release, you may have gone further. Is the sex real?
Ryan: The sex is real in the sense that it is portrayed how sex really is. How’s that for a non-answer!?
WC: I must admit I have a gripe with Gutterballs: the swearing. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the word “fuck” uttered that many times in a movie before. To quote from Live Feed, “there’s no need for fucking profanity!” Do you think it was at all distracting from the sex and violence? That words can be more powerful than actions?
Ryan: I think that everything in “Gutterballs” is way over the top. The swearing being one of those things. Looking back, I think if we had stuck more to the script, there would be way less swearing. But when you’re shooting in the middle of the night and you’re sick and tired, people have a tendency to say “fuck” more than they normally would. It’s just how it turned out. There’s a drinking game on how many times “fuck” is said and how it is said, etc…I’m not lying! I don’t know if that’s an honor or an insult!
WC: Gutterballs is a throw back movie: it’s set in the 80′s, it has a great score of 80′s oldies and unabashedly features sex and lots of blood, violence and gore. Hell, even the poster DVD art is an homage to 1980′s Maniac. What was the reasoning behind the retro setting?
Ryan: I think bowling is very retro. The clothing is retro, the shoes, etc…I think to place characters from nowadays in a bowling setting would be less interesting than to place characters plucked straight out of the 80′s and stick them in this huge modern facility, which is essentially what we did. I also think the look lends itself to the kills. They’re very much modeled after the great slashers of the 80′s. “My Bloody Valentine”, “The Prowler”, “The Burning”…they all work so well. “Gutterballs” needed to feel like you were in a time warp. From the reviews thus far, I think we achieved it.
WC: CAT III films and Japanese pinku films feature a lot of rape scenes, and they try to make them “sexy”, yet you went the other way. Was the rape designed to repulse rather than arouse?
Ryan: For sure. My intent was to provoke sympathy. I don’t like to hear people getting off to this stuff. If defeats the purpose of making this movie. It’s a rape/revenge movie. You need to feel sickened and repulsed by the actions of the bad guys to really want to see them killed so violently and so brutally.
WC: Two goofs happened during this scene: 1) The actress was supposed to be going commando (a term I don’t believe was invented in the 80′s) but she was clearly wearing underwear. 2) One of the characters was instructed on which end of the bowling pin to rape her with, but still messed up—but was told he was doing it correctly. Am I nitpicking here?
Ryan: No, you’re pointing out some continuity issues. Things slip up when shooting so late. The rape was shot over two nights. The actress wore panties when she didn’t have to due nudity. Some things we miss while editing. I know which part you’re talking about. She’s being man-handled before she’s thrown onto the pinball machine. I always thought that was part of the elastic from her skirt, the white string you see. But it could be taken for panties. As for the pin, the character “Steve” orders “Patrick” to use the “big end” and “Patrick” argues “it won’t fit”. My intention for the next line was to reveal “Steve” was only joking when he says “No shit it won’t fit…just make it deep”. So “Patrick” uses the small end again. I guess it’s all in how you interpret how the character says this or that. As for the “commando” line, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know if that was around in the 80′s but I haven’t specifically set the movie in the 80′s. It could be early 90′s or nowadays with this cast of characters wearing retro clothing which is the trend or so it seems.
WC: Gutterballs features some very interesting and graphic deaths. You’re an effects guy at heart. How much of the movie is just a setup to kill people in an interesting fashion?
Ryan: The movie was a huge set-piece to kill of the characters with inventive deaths. The “Wax-O-Matic” was written in the script just so I could wax someone’s face off. There’s no denying the strongest parts of the movie are the kills. Just setting the movie in a bowling alley gave us so much to work with. The pins, the balls, the ball returns, behind the lanes…the possibilities for creative death scenes were endless.
WC: I can’t tell you how much I laughed at the 976-3845 phone number. I’m sure a huge chunk of your audience saw it, knew it was from the old movie directed by Robert Englund (976-EVIL) and enjoyed it as well. Another chuckle I got was the “Loonies Only” condom dispenser sign. Nothing says made in Canada like a Loonie.
Ryan: That’s funny, I wondered how many people would catch that! The “Loonies Only” will probably confuse a few people who don’t know much about Canada’s currency but I had to leave that in there. I’m proud to be Canadian and I won’t change things or “Americanize” them just to sell the movie to a certain market. Believe it or not, some distributors wanted less “eh” because it’s too Canadian?? Go figure…That’s why I have that great shot of the “Canadian Beaver” right in the opening scenes. Gotta love Canada!
WC: Live Feed is widely available in rental stores. Will Gutterballs have the same saturation?
Ryan: Absolutely! TLA Releasing’s “Danger After Dark” label is huge when it comes to getting product on the shelves and better yet, they’re only releasing it UNCUT in North America. No “R-rated” version to confuse yourself with. Although other countries will in fact be releasing two versions. The “edited” version is nearly 15 minutes shorter!
WC: Another of your films, Torched. A Story of Rape & Revenge. I really want to see that sucker! It seems like everybody who’s seen it, has loved it, but I can’t get my hands on a copy. I hear that I may finally get my chance with a re-release of it.
Ryan: Plotdigger Films is actually releasing the “Torched: The Director’s Cut” in the Fall. It is the first “official” stand alone release of “Torched” and will be longer, gorier and sexier. Not the rape is sexy by any means, but there’s a couple of sex scenes in “Torched” that have nothing to do with rape. I’m excited, I get to cut it together over the Summer. It’ll be the first movie I’ve actually edited myself, hence the “Director’s Cut” tagline.
WC: I read a while back that Live Feed will be re-released as a CAT III cut, with possibly some new scenes, or pick up shots added. And what’s this I hear about a possible Live Feed 2?
Ryan: Indeed! As with “Torched”, I’m also doing a “Live Feed: Cat III Edition” with more gore, sex, etc…a new sound mix, new special features and it may actually be released on Blu-Ray. It will also have a teaser for “Live Feed 2″, something to whet the appetite but I still haven’t shot the movie, just a teaser for the movie I will eventually shoot, if that makes any sense!
This interview was conducted by Vaughn Drake for Wildside Cinema. Wildside Cinema and Vaughn Drake would like to thank Ryan Nicholson of Plotdigger Films for taking time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview.