They don’t make ‘em rough like they used to. Many have tried, however, but have only produced limp imitations. No more “Last House on the Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes” for us. Or so I thought.
Let me introduce you to Jeffery Lando and his new film Savage Island. Anyone looking for a gritty, shocking good time need look no further. And for those who prefer their horror non-threatening, well…they can go piss their pants.
We recently spoke with Jeffery about the art of being savage.
How and when did you get into filmmaking?
I was basically born into filmmaking. My father, Barry Lando, was a “60 Minutes” producer who directed about a hundred of those fifteen-minute docs. He actually taught a film course to us first-graders in elementary school. We’d cut Super-8 together, do little frame-by-frame animations etc… I always had a camera at my disposal. Then, when they switched over to Beta SP in the 80s I’d sneak into their editing facilities and cut little music videos and shorts all night long.
What were some of your earlier films like?
I made all sorts of shorts. Generally they were irreverent fun little pieces cut in camera. Once in college, however, I began trying to prove how smart I was and everything had to be intellectual and symbolic and deep. Visual poetry, obscure metaphors for consumerism… It couldn’t just be fun; it had to be Art with a Point. Eventually I just abandoned all that and focused on directing photography on indies in Brooklyn. That was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.
What inspired the story of Savage Island?
I wanted my first feature to be a horror film, just like Peter Jackson, James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi… etc… Horror is a great genre for beginning film directors firstly, because it is a niche market, which doesn’t require name actors and secondly, because you get to really play around. It’s a very cinematic genre, you get to pull out all the stops: music, lighting, editing, sound… it’s all about building atmosphere.
Having decided on the genre, I also knew I wanted it to be edgy. I wanted to go full out, to leave people going: “Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that.” It had to be SAVAGE.
I also knew I wanted to write to my resources. I have family out here that owns a house on an island. Hence: “Savage Island.” I knew the title long before I knew the storyline. Of course, that house was the first location we lost.
When I met up with Kevin Mosley, who wrote the screenplay, I told him I wanted to make a movie called Savage Island, I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew it was a horror-thriller and I knew it had to be relentless. I wanted a story that moved like a freight train dropped off the edge of a cliff.
After much deliberation, Kevin and I picked Wes Craven’s masterpiece The Hills Have Eyes as the proverbial jumping-off point. That story is extremely well constructed and horror fans will recognize some similar elements. Of course, in the process, we made some very different choices.
How did you fund the production of Savage Island?
I’d love to answer that one for you. Perhaps after our distribution deal is zipped-up.
How did you assemble your cast and crew?
I work in the industry here in Vancouver in various capacities (cinematographer, camera op, lighting technician), a truly great way to network. For instance, while shooting an indie feature for Miridien Entertainment, I pitched them the concept. Before I knew it they’d put their resources behind the project, not the least of which was Steven Man who plays the lead.
I approached Don Davis on the set of “Stargate SG-1” (I was working as a lighting technician there); he generously agreed to read a script when it was ready. Gregg Scott, who is brilliant as the deranged middle child of the Savage Family, had a small, but hilarious, part in an indie I shot. We wrote the part of Joe for him. Zoran Vukelic, the hunky eldest son of the Savage Family, I noticed while working out at the ‘Y’. “Are you an actor?” Thankfully, he was. Brendan Beiser, hilariously obnoxious as Steven’s brother-in-law we love to hate, is my cousin and a great improviser. He basically wrote his own part. Winston Rekert, the terrifyingly intense patriarch of the Savage Family, rescued us out of the blue when he called and demanded the part. He IS Eliah, actually plays the jaw harp, smokes a pipe, and carves wood for the fun of it. Kristina Copeland, Beverley Breuer, Lindsay Jameson, and Nahanni Arntzen all auditioned and knocked our socks off. There are some very talented actors out here and very few opportunities, which is great for indie directors like myself.
Were there any major problems in getting the film made?
Uh, yeah. Really, we all felt like we survived Savage Island rather than made “Savage Island.” On the very first day we lost both our 1st A.D. and our Gaffer, as well as half the scenes we were intending to cover. The Gaffer sprained his ankle in the deep mud that plagued us throughout the shoot, the A.D. just walked away, saying he had a bad feeling about the shoot and “couldn’t do it” (he took our four P.A.s with him). This was three hours into the day. The rain was relentless. I remember looking around at the crew. They were all young, inexperienced, none of them had proper rain gear, mainly denim and baseball caps. It was cold, wet, muddy (early December) and we were deep in the woods with no cover whatsoever. Those who stayed got grim and intense. There were a lot of cold nights and the rain never let up. It truly was savage filmmaking.
Post-production on the picture took me a couple of years. I was cutting it on an iMac in our living room and my pregnant wife (and later our daughter Hannah) got to listen to yelling and screaming almost constantly. At a certain point, I was faced with a rough cut that was just not working. I realized that I could choose to compromise like crazy and let the flaws stay or I could go out shoot more material and make it all work. Of course I chose the latter. I put together a database with over 280 shots indexed by location, prop, and actor that I was committed to picking up. Over the next year we checked those shots off, one by one. Thanks to the cast & crew for coming back over a year later for more savagery in the woods.
Has it been easy getting your film out there?
Now that it is finished, yes, very easy. The three genre festivals we’ve approached so far have loved the movie. They’ve nominated us for ten awards altogether. So far, Savage Island has won Best Feature Film at Maniafest and Best Horror feature at ShockerFest. We got a great producer’s rep (Mark Litwak) on board to help us negotiate our way through distribution and he’s been doing a stellar job. We currently have several offers on the table and expect to close the deal any day. I’m constantly amazed by filmmakers who go it alone at this stage. I don’t know how they do it.
Any upcoming projects?
There are quite a few I want to do actually. For now, Kevin and I are shopping around a story that is a twist on the haunted house genre called “The Haunting of Laura Rhodes.” It is a very intense, dark story about a woman who believes she is the reincarnation of the victim of a terrible crime. This story is all atmosphere and suspense with a great reversal at the end. Another opportunity to pull out all the stops. Who needs stops, anyway?