It was my own fault.
Even though I’ve known filmmaker Eric Thornett for years, I still had the urge to interview him. Expecting to get pages of incoherent rambling. This is the guy who interviewed himself for my previous ‘zine, Hollywood is Burning, in which both Erics take on ninjas midway through the interview (sent by a villainous Debbie Rochon, no less). One Eric transforms into a cannon at the end of the fight. When the smoke clears, the piece ends with “and then they make out.” I am actually convinced that his interview happened exactly the way he says it happened. I have no evidence to the contrary, anyway.
Against my better judgment, and because I love his movie Shockheaded, which was released in July by Heretic Films, I sent Eric a group of questions via email, cringing every time I opened my inbox, dreading what would flow forth.
Imagine my surprise, however, when I received the following. It’s largely coherent, even eloquent in spots. Leading me to the conclusion that either someone else wrote it for him, or he called the “Other Eric” back. In any case, here’s the Eric Thornett interview.
(If you haven’t seen his movie, “Shockheaded” (or his award-winning “23 Hours”, or caught him on-screen in “Lethal Force” or my own upcoming “Abattoir”… shame on you), I refer to it as “David Lynch’s martial arts movie” or, possibly, “Howard Hawks’ film noir with sword fights”. It’s about a man looking for a woman. And the people who don’t want him to find her. There’s more to it, but that’s the synopsis.)
What follows is largely unedited.
What inspired “Shockheaded”?
In general, I wanted to make a ghost movie but I couldn’t think of a good way to do one without rehashing the usual haunted house plot. So I thought I could combine it with the detective story. I love movies like “Maltese Falcon”, but they never had ghosts in them, and I figured I could fix that.
And specific things got inspired me as well. A lot of times I come up with movie ideas by things that I see and think would be interesting to shoot. In the movie, this flowered wallpaper [in the hero’s hotel room] is important, and that’s because I saw some similar wallpaper one day, and then I started thinking, ‘what if someone was always looking at the wall and could see things moving around in there, but in a subtle way, so he couldn’t be sure?’ Another specific thing is this video I saw of a woman who had been institutionalized, and she had videotaped herself going off on these weird paranoid rantings, which inspired [a similar] woman in the movie. So, the idea of doing a ghost movie combined with these ideas inspired “Shockheaded”.
Plus, accidentally inhaling cat fur.
Did it spring whole from your head, or did you have to work to make it as weird as it is?
It didn’t really spring from my head; it took a while to write the script. I generally write about half of the movie and then figure out how everything fits together. I don’t like to know the exact outcome from the start when I write a mystery story because I think that way the story can work on me in the same way it does the hero. I think it’s fun to work in the abstract and not toward a specific goal.
I guess a lot of people have been calling it weird, but I think the only reason people think the movie is weird is because it’s a mix of horror and a typical detective story. Look at the general outlines of the plot: an amateur detective type of guy gets a case, follows the clues, and solves it. I think if it was only the film noir material and the horror stuff was taken out, it wouldn’t be seen as weird at all. And if all of the horror stuff is pretty typical horror material…creepy guys, specters, that kind of thing. And not everything is explained with a bunch of exposition which maybe makes things seem stranger than they are, but I think by the end of it, you pretty much should be able to glean what you need to. Explaining everything too on the nose makes it mundane.
And what made it a movie that only you could make?
I think it could have also been made by a monkey, if it was a Siamese twin monkey that shared a brain, so it was smarter than the average monkey. My ego is healthy enough to think that your typical monkey would not have been as successful. He might have made the same movie, but would have called it “Banana Train Bomb” or something stupid.
What made you decide to play the villain, ‘Normal’? Was it difficult to act and direct at the same time?
It wasn’t very difficult for me to do because I generally know how the scene will play, and once I know my character I can go right into it pretty easily. The hardest part was remembering my dialogue since unfortunately, this character had all of the expositional monologues. But when things got rough in that regard, someone would hold up the script off camera and I’d just read it. The main problem is that I like to operate my own camera, and of course doing it this way, I had to trust others to get the shots right. It worked out well enough, I guess.
The main reason I played the character is because we cast Debbie Rochon in the movie. He was the only character who would interact with [both her and] the rest of the cast. It was a one day shoot so I basically told her to let me know when she would be free. I didn’t need much notice, and I figured if I played the character it would be easy because I had a cameraman in New York who could shoot it. We did it this way because at the time she was outrageously busy shooting movie after movie, and flying in and out of town and her time was very limited. So mostly, I played the character out of convenience.
But I also felt that I could bring a fun style to the character as well, and that if I played him it would help the fight scenes since I’m all right at that kind of thing and this way I wouldn’t need to explain it all to an actor, I could just get in there and do it, and work with the star Jason Wauer in a hands-on way.
How do you describe “Shockheaded”?
I always call it a film noir horror movie. With occasional swordfighting.
What were the biggest challenges of completing this movie?
The typical low budget stuff…getting everyone’s schedules together, finding decent locations, talking people into letting me light firecrackers on them…
How do you describe your directing style?
On set I’m usually pretty low key. I take a lot of care with the camerawork since I do it myself, and I love working with actors. We tend to do a lot of takes because I like to try and get bits of subtlety in the performances that are sometimes hard to get right. On “Shockheaded” sometimes we got up to forty or fifty takes for a single shot.
What is your opinion of the final product?
Overall, I’m pleased with it. It has some problems, but for a low budget experimental type of movie, I think we did all right. It’s not for everyone.
You had topless shots of Debbie Rochon and you didn’t use them and you brag about this.
Is it bragging? It’s just that everyone asks about where the nudity is. And I cut it all. I shot nudity just to cover myself…essentially, I wanted to make a movie about this woman venturing into porn, but not turn “Shockheaded” into some boobie movie. Maybe I should have!
Anyway, I figured it was better to have the nudity and not need it, than need it and not have it. I was basically afraid I’d cut the movie together without the nudity and it would come off really jive. Luckily, when I put it together, I think it worked well enough and still allowed me to be a little bit subtle.
What is your opinion of the state of indie movies today? How could it be made better (or worse)?
I couldn’t presume to say. I think indies are just like everything else, there’s great, terrible, and mediocre material. One piece of advice I’d give to indie filmmakers is, if you want to talk about how mindless Hollywood is and how much they suck, please come up with a better story idea than “people trapped in a house by zombies.”
What’s coming up for you?
I’m finishing a movie called “Fifth City”, which is the opposite of everything “Shockheaded” stands for. It’s a fast-paced martial arts sci-fi comedy. I’m certain that it is so stupid and full of mindless action, that it will be a rousing success.
Visit Eric’s Digital Home at www.piranha-pictures.com.