With A Horrible Way to Die set for release March 19th we caught up with producer Travis Stevens the main man behind Celluloid Nightmares to talk about his films, his career and smacking Tom Cruise in the head with a telephoto lens.
You have had a variety of roles in the movie industry from directing shorts to editing to lecturing of movie’s and being a film critic. How did you get into producing?
Travis Stevens: After directing a few movies in college, I realized that while I was interested in making films (the concept of what a film should be, the story, the look, the approach, the casting, marketing etc.), I didn’t care so much for the technical aspect of actually directing them.
In the 90s we were still shooting on super 8 and we’d have to mail it off to a lab in California to get developed and then wait 2 weeks to get it back on VHS so you could begin editing. I remember making a film about a town filled with sexual deviants and when the film came back from the lab half the reels were black. We hadn’t exposed the film correctly. That was when the realization came it was probably better to leave those duties in the hands of people more tech savvy.
Upon moving to Hollywood with a degree in filmmaking I was surprised to learn you can’t just start “producing” unless you are rich or connected. Neither of which I was (damn parents). So the next 10 years were spent learning as much about every aspect of the process and business as possible. I worked in story development, as a film critic, launched a festival, worked as a P.A., foreign sales, marketing…just trying to learn as much as possible for when the opportunity to produce full time was there. Each job helped inform how to approach the others.
We’re now at a point where film critics who run websites are dabbling in producing and distributing films—so this overlap is becoming commonplace.
I read on IMDB that when you first moved to Los Angeles you appeared as an extra in Starship Troopers, Jerry Maguire and Jingle All the Way. Did you ever think of becoming an actor?
Travis Stevens: Nah—I’m an terrible actor (as you can see from the opening of AHWTD). But being an extra was one of the only ways to get onto a film set. My parents thought it was a big deal. The reality of STARSHIP TROOPERS is that we did jumping jacks in the hot sun for hours and hours and hours. People were passing out all the time. But it was totally worth it to see Paul Verhoeven yell at his DP Jost. And he yelled at me for ruining a shot which was a carreer highpoint.
On JERRY MAGUIRE I accidentally smacked Tom Cruise in the head with a telephoto lens. Take that Hollywood!
You head up Celluloid Nightmares, what makes a Celluloid Nightmare film?
Travis Stevens: After working for the sales company Imagination Worldwide (THE HAMILTONS, THE LOST, GROWTH, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, LITTLE DEATHS) it was an honor to play a small part in launching Celluloid Nightmares (NORWEGIAN NINJA, RED WHITE & BLUE, X) in 2010. But when the opportunity came to start my own production company (Snowfort Pictures) I couldn’t pass it up. After 15 years in Hollywood working for other people, you just want to be your own boss.
We’ve had a very successful launch with A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, the upcoming THE AGGRESSION SCALE, THE THOMPSONS (a sequel to Liosngate film The Hamiltons), JODOROWSKY’S DUNE and MEGA SPIDER. Think fans of intelligent genre films will enjoy them all.
You produced A Horrible Way to Die, what attracted you to the project?
Travis Stevens: Adam Wingard (director) and Simon Barrett (director). Adam’s film POP SKULL had blown me away. He could have brought a takeaway menu for chinese food and said he wanted to make a film and I’d have said “YES.”
It didn’t hurt that Simon’s script was fantastic. So tight, smart and doable at that budget level.
The film won jury awards for Best Actor (AJ Bowen), Best Actress (Amy Seimetz) and Best Screenplay (Simon Barrett) at the 2010 FantasticFest. What do you think sets it apart from other horror films?
Travis Stevens: I think people are drawn to the different approach the film takes to the material. As genre fans we just want something “new.” And from the way the story is told, to Adam’s visual choices, the aduience is getting something unusual for a “serial killer thriller”
You combine that artistic approach with such grounded performances from AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg and the end result feels special. The film isn’t for everyone, but those who like it seem to love it.
It played at many festivals including last years FrightFest. How was it received by the audiences?
Travis Stevens: It usually plays very well—but there are times when the aggressive camerawork can be a bit much on the big screen. When we first screened at Toronto International we were standing off to the side and feeling a little queasy during some of the scenes.
The guys from FrightFest (Paul, Greg, Alan) have been tremendously supportive over the years although I haven’t had the pleasure of attending yet. One year I went to their Christmas party and think I was hungover for 4 days.
What is your favourite horror film and why from the ones you have been involved in?
Travis Stevens: In general my favorite horror film is THE SHINING. Every frame of that film is a bliss. As for my own films, I can’t really pick favorites—they’re like your kids. And even if one comes out slightly retarded you still love it.
I saw that you wrote the story for the horror Summer’s Moon staring Twilight star Ashley Greene. Do you have any other horror’s you have penned and want to produce?
Travis Stevens: I write out of neccessity—sometimes it is easier to just put the idea down on paper rather than trying to explain it to someone. But it takes a real writer to bring that idea to life, to give it skin and personality.
In the case of SUMMER’S MOON for example, UK writer Sean Hogan took my initial draft and turned the story into a movie worth making. We didn’t really honor his draft, but a better movie existed on paper at least.
Can you tell us about some of the other horror projects you have coming up?
Travis Stevens: Steven C. Miller’s THE AGGRESSION SCALE (Anchor Bay will release in the UK this year), Mike Mendez’s MEGA SPIDER (a giant bug movie in the vein of TREMORS), The Butcher Brother’s THE THOMPSONS (Lionsgate will release in the UK), JODOROWSKY’S DUNE about director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to film DUNE in the 70s, and a handful of projects we can’t announce yet.
Basically just movies we think are cool.
And finally what do you think is the most horrible way to die?
Travis Stevens: Personally I think being hit by a bus/truck would be the worst. Everytime I see one of those scenes in a film I have a panic attack. My wife makes fun of me for triple checking before I cross the street.
Travis Stevens thank you again
Read our review of A Horrible Way to Die right Here and check out the trailer below: