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By Don R. Lewis | November 17, 2006

I live in Northern California. You know, the part of California that isn’t Hollywood. While most of my fellow Northerners pride themselves on not being Southerners, I genuinely like Southern California. They make movies there and I like movies. Sure, Nor Cal has it’s fair share of production credits as Hitchcock shot here frequently and Coppola and Lucas call the area home, but there’s just not a lot of cinematic excitement happening. But all of that might be changing.

Before elaborating on this upcoming sea change in regards to my home turf transforming into a cinematic mecca, let me take you back in time a few years. I was at a local art and wine festival enjoying the wine part (well, beer really) when I stumbled into a downtown tavern. I recognized a couple of fellow Petalumans from a newspaper article that said they were making a film in town. Cool! I walked over and introduced myself to Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores. After several beers and shots I was fairly convinced these two guys, as completely cool as they were, had no idea how to make a film. It wasn’t anything personal, these guys just seemed too into partying and screwing around to take things seriously. Boy was I ever wrong.

A few years later Mitch called me and said he wanted to me to take a look at their new film “Lurking in Suburbia” and if possible, do a review for Film Threat. I kind of make it a policy to not review films from friends but I told Mitch I would do it, but that I was going to be brutally honest about it. He said he was cool with that so I went home and watched the film. I loved it as you can see from my review here. While it’s by no means a masterpiece, I was really impressed with the raw honesty of the film, plus it was funny as hell.

Mitch, Phil and I stayed in touch over the years and I heard tell of a horror film they were planning. Again, this conversation took place in a bar and by the end of it, I figured the whole thing was in the early planning stages and would never happen. Wrong again. Less than a year later, Mitch and Phil presented me a copy of their dark comedy/horror/family drama film “The Hamiltons.” Rather than spend a lot of time talking about how they were gonna do “this” and try and get “that actor,” they just went out and made their film. And it’s a really, really good one. “The Hamiltons” hit the festival circuit and in a move reminiscent of the golden age of indie filmmaking, when guys like Soderbergh, Tarantino and Smith were overnight auteurs, “The Hamiltons” was picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. Frigging Lionsgate!

I caught up with the Butcher Brothers, the alter-ego team of Mitchel Altieri and Phil Flores who made “The Hamiltons” and we managed to stay sober long enough to craft this interview.

So what’s the story with “The Butcher Brothers?” Where do the two of you hail from? What’s your background?
The Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri & Phil Flores): Well, ‘The Butcher Brothers’ is our alter ego for darker material. Since we have a more dramatic and comedic background, we wanted to come up with a different name for our horror content. The Butcher Brothers were born.

So the “Butcher Brothers” moniker was chosen so you could be free to do your own non-horror type projects under your own names?
Exactly. We still want to make non-horror films as well as horror films. So we felt that the cross over would be easier if we used ‘The Butcher Brothers’ for dark content and our own names for other films.

Can you two talk about the process of creating and directing as a team as opposed to by yourself? Who takes what roles?
We have worked together for so long that it’s quite simple really and actually helps things move a lot faster. Even on individual projects we always work on them together so it’s become almost second nature.

As for the process of creating and directing as a team, we usually try and work out everything before hand so when we get on set we have most all our set ups figured out. Then when actors want to attempt something different or the DP comes up with a good idea, we will talk it over ourselves and decide what direction to follow. We try to keep it as non-confusing as possible for the sake of our cast and crew.

The genre change from “Lurking in Suburbia” to “The Hamiltons” is pretty big. Story wise, both films are pretty similar but on the surface, they’re totally different. Can you talk about the reasoning behind making such a broad switch?
We also love dark films, Lynch, Cronenberg, Hooper… we wanted to make something that had great story and great characters. Like in “Lurking in Suburbia,” we really concentrated on character development and making a picture that we wanted to see. Also with the addition of our writing partner Adam Weis, who’s an extreme horror lover, we felt we had the right ingredients to make a great film. So the switch itself was not that hard… as you mentioned there are similarities in both films. Even though, “Lurking” is a comedy, it gets dark.

Can you take both myself and the Film Threat readers through the origination of “The Hamiltons?” What were the original seeds for the story? What influenced the writing and the film?
It involved some beers and the need to see something different. Adam Weis had a big part in that. We started kicking around ideas of what we wanted to make that would be original, scary, and cool. Once the idea hit us, we worked non-stop and two months later we had “The Hamiltons.” A few weeks after that, we started filming.

What was the film festival response like? I heard you won an award?
The festival circuit was great! Yeah… we actually won the “Gold Vision Award” at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the “Jury Award” at the Malibu Film Festival, and took 2nd Place at Another Hole in the Head Horror Festival. The best part is winning at non-genre festivals because you go up against some pretty high-powered films with big stars and more emotional or politically charged stories.

When did Lionsgate get involved? Were you surprised or did you kind of know you had something special and unique on your hands that might attract studios?
Lionsgate got involved after our first festival screening. There was a huge buzz at the festival and I think that contributed to a lot of interest from many distribution companies. We decided to go with LGF because of their well-known association with horror, we wanted the best home for “The Hamiltons” and LGF seemed like the right fit.

Every filmmaker hopes they have something special on their hands, but ever since the concept of “The Hamiltons” was created it seemed like it had a life of it’s own and people were very receptive to it. After we watched the first rough cut, we realized that this film was different than most horror films and approached the genre with an unorthodox perspective, with a Butcher Brothers perspective.

Replay for us the Lionsgate call. Which one of you s**t your pants more?
When the Butcher Brothers mess their pants they mess it equally. One diaper, one mind. When we got the call were at a friends bachelor party, sitting at the bar looking at each other saying, this one of our childhood dreams materializing in front of us. We did a shot and accepted the offer.

This weekend is the “After Dark Horror Fest” and “The Hamiltons” is screening. What is the festival all about? How did you get involved?
The After Dark Fest is an annual horror fest that packages “8 films to Die For.” Eight horror related films that haven’t yet been released and they play those films nationwide, 500 screens, 35 cities in one weekend. We got a call from Shaun Redick who put us in touch with Courtney Solomon who runs After Dark and Courtney basically said that he’d love to have our film be part of the festival this year. So we obliged, and since After Dark was working with LGF already it seemed like a great opportunity for everyone.

I don’t think people will realize just how small your budget was for “The Hamiltons.” Any words of wisdom you can impart to upstart filmmakers? Did you have to make any sacrifices in your vision due to budget restrictions? How were you able to shoot around those issues?
The whole idea behind “The Hamiltons” was intentionally simple from its birth. We had an opportunity to make a small horror film in virtually one location so what could we do? A family of homicidal Stepfords living with a dark secret below the house of course!

The deal is: Try to keep it simple; Story. Production. Crew. This is how we pulled off “The Hamiltons”; a lot of phone calls and favors, and a great cast to make a small film feel like a large one. Overall though, the most important aspect is always attention to story. Without great story and characters you’ll end up just making more filler.

Speaking of, you guys assembled a really great cast for this film, was it all done through auditions? What was the rehearsal time like? Was it limited or was there a lot of it?
Thanks. Yeah, we were very lucky to work with some really amazing talent. Sam Child and Joe Egender from “Lurking in Suburbia” signed on to work again with us. They had no choice. Then we found Cory Knauf and Mackenzie Firgens while working on another film set. Joe McKelheer we met at the Cinevegas film festival and immediately got along with him. After seeing everyone’s professionalism and performances we knew right away this was the cast we wanted.

“The Hamiltons” was one of the quickest productions we had. Written in 2 months, shot in 2 weeks. We did about a week of rehearsal and then let the cast work their magic and then hit the ground running.

When can people see “The Hamiltons?” What’s next for the Butcher Brothers?
“The Hamiltons” makes it theatrical premiere, nationwide, this Sunday, Nov 19th. It plays twice on Sunday, approximately 4PM and 8PM. After the Horrorfest we’ll be sitting down with LGF to see what the next step is for “The Hamiltons”. We’ve been fortunate to meet with a lot of wonderful producers and production companies who are interested in what our next project is.

And you can be sure that the Butcher Brothers have got something on the burners that should come to a boil in 2007 and will feed any starving fans.

So there you have it, a modern day cinematic Cinderella story from the scenic vistas of Northern California. For me the story of The Butcher Brothers is an inspiring one as there’s so many filmmakers struggling to create their vision and get it to an audience. The advice above is solid; the only way to succeed is to follow your dream.

You can see “The Hamiltons” this Sunday, November 19 in a city near you by clicking After Dark Horrorfest’s Website>>>

Keep up with “The Hamiltons” and The Butcher Brothers at San Francisco Independent Cinema>>>

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