Sick of editing porn and directing bullshit projects, such as the one commissioned of him by the owner of a taxi cab company, Brian O’Hara decided to pit all of his resources into making his own damn movie – Rock ‘N’ Roll Frankenstein. The 1999 film has gone on to build a cult following with its over-the-top sleaze that is too much for some to handle, finding some critics denouncing it as pure garbage, while others praise it as a work of truly brilliant underground cinema. The film has also taken Brian around the world where it built its notoriety on the festival circuit. Rock ‘N’ Roll Frankenstein has recently been released to DVD by EI Independent Cinema’s Shock-O-Rama video label and the film still plays festivals here and there, one of them being Fright-Fest, October 11 – 12, in Gainesville, Georgia.
We caught up with Brian to talk with him a bit about what it took to resurrect Rock ‘N’ Roll Frankenstein.
When did you start filmmaking?
Well, I made a couple of short films during my two years of college. I’d messed around with super-8 a little bit as a teen. But I didn’t get my first film job until I was about 23. That was a gig editing 16mm bondage and discipline flicks.
Did film school help at all in realizing your filmmaking dream?
Yeah, sure. I got to use film equipment and that’s where I met a film teacher, Bruce Spiegel, who is still a good friend and been sort of a mentor.
How does one go about finding work editing porn?
I really wouldn’t know now. Back in the early 80s, when I cut fuck and suck for a couple of years, things were a lot different. First off, they were shooting in film and we were editing film (with actual stories, believe it or not). Most people were queasy about working on porn – you could end up more or less blackballed by legitimate film productions if they knew you worked on smut. So porn producers were always desperate to find decent editors. My aforementioned film teacher, Bruce Spiegel, turned me on to my first gig, editing movies for Phil Prince at Avon Productions. I eventually moved on to higher class porn and then the market more or less died in the mid 80s with the advent of home video. I was pretty sick of it anyway. I look back on those days with fond memories now, but at the time I think I hated it.
What inspired “Rock N’ Roll Frankenstein”?
I suppose the residual memories of watching the old Universal horror films from when I was a kid. Paul Morrissey’s “Flesh for Frankenstein” was definitely a big influence. And at the time I thought “R&R F” would be a moneymaker. I’ve since learned otherwise.
Also, a couple of years before making “R&R F” I had gone through the miserable experience of directing a movie for a not very charming Israeli owner of a taxi cab company in New York City. After that debacle, I was desperate to get a movie made I could be proud of. I had a number of scripts on the shelf and I decided to go with “R&R F.”
How did you fund the creation of “Frankenstein”?
That’s a tricky one. At the time, I was living off credit cards and was going to try to make the movie using them. I ran out of money and filed for bankruptcy. Going Chapter 11 was the best thing I ever did in my life. I did find an investor (really a friend), and my brother Sean was quite instrumental in getting funding. Of course the budget kept rising and by the time we did the blow-up to 35mm, the film cost a lot more than I ever thought it would.
Was making “Rock N’ Roll Frankenstein” a positive experience?
Yes, definitely. I met a lot of talented people on the crew, especially the director of photography, Jay Hillman. And “R&R F” got me around the world. I was invited to film fests from Helsinki to Bangkok. It was a lovely time.
Were there any major road bumps in getting the film made?
Oh sure. Initially, I attempted to shoot in digital video; this was back in 1997. I abandoned that idea (after shooting for 4 days) and we eventually shot the movie in super 16mm and blew up to 35mm.
And there are the usual war stories associated with low-budget independent filmmaking: the PA who stole the van; the scumbag camera rental house that rented us a camera with a back-focus problem, leading to out-of-focus footage (but I actually got the insurance company to pay for five days of re-shoots, so that worked out for the best); and then there was the great gerbil controversy. A gerbil (posthumously named Gus) died on the set of “R&R Frankie” (let’s say Gus had a heart attack) and I made use of his carcass for an extreme close-up wherein The Monster bites the rodent’s little head off. This led to me being investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture for gerbilcide. I was facing criminal felony charges with a possible punishment of up to two years in jail.
Have you had any problems getting your film screened?
In the USA it was nearly impossible. The movie was shunned by all the “underground” festivals, and back in 1999, the IFP (Incredible Fuckin’ Pussies) refused to grant “R&R Frankie” a screening slot at their Independent Feature Film Market.
Sometimes smaller fests in The States still contact me about showing the movie, so it screens on video or DVD, not a 35mm print. “R&R F” has been out on DVD since last October on EI Independent Cinema’s Shock-O-Rama label.
What’s one of your favorite screenings?
I’d say at the PiFan Festival of Fantastic Films in South Korea. I really wasn’t expecting much, just looking at it as a free trip halfway around the world. Much to my surprise the fest was a huge affair. It kind of felt like being at the Asian Oscars. At the screening of “R&R F” there was an eager audience of over 1,000 people. I remember seeing The Isle there and thinking, “Man, these Koreans are making some far-out movies.”
Any future projects?
I’d like to think so, but between “R&R F”’s dismal monetary return and my own stellar personality I’d say the odds aren’t good. If I had the resources I’d like to make “Dance with the Devil”, a script I wrote about a disillusioned nun investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding her wayward sister’s murder, which ultimately leads her to become a dominatrix.
Last question – If you could have anyone’s head in a vice right now, whose would it be?
Oh man…so many to choose from. Let’s keep it confined to indie film directors. I’d say Kevin Smith. His movies suck and he’s an absolute fuckin’ blowhard.