Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Punks, zombies and Pin-ups: Enter the strange world of Doug Sakmann!

By indrid13

Doug Sakmann is a true Renaissance man in the horror industry. From directing to producing to special effects, Doug has done it all! Now with his production company, Backseat Conceptions, Doug is bringing us a myriad of ghoulish entertainment!

Hey Doug, first I’d just like to say thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s get started! How did you get started in the industry?

Doug: I started in the industry as an actor, having always wanted to act and be in front of the camera. When I got involved with Troma in 1999, while I got to be in front of the camera, there was also a lot more going on behind the camera that I could get involved with. I had worked on all these bigger productions like ‘Strangers With Candy’ and the ‘Upright Citizens Brigade’ as an actor. I did ‘Oz’ and ‘The Yards’ with Mark Wahlberg as an extra. But as I worked on more productions I wanted to get more involved with what’s going on. As an actor you do a lot of sitting in the holding area and wait. But with Troma, if you’re sitting on the set as an actor, you’ll hear “Move that light!”, and if you show the initiative, you’ll get more involved. When I was on the bigger productions, I’d try to get more involved and get shot down by the Union guys. With Troma it would be “You can move that light? Move that light!”, “Get that fake blood and bring it over here!” So I learned a lot from Troma and more specifically working with Lloyd Kaufman. He taught me a lot of the ins and outs of the business in general.

So what influenced you to focus on becoming a director of genre material?

Doug: Troma was a huge influence on me and my career in general. Troma films, Friday the 13th and Hellraiser, were all big influences. It came down to my parents were really over protective, so when a horror film like Halloween came on TV, totally edited for television, everything cut out, my parents would still not let me watch it. I didn’t even know there was other stuff out there. I would hang out with my friends, and my friend’s parents were more liberal and they would let us watch horror movies, so that’s really how I got into the whole genre. So I wanted to seek this stuff out. I’d go over to my friend’s house and watch the entire Faces of Death series, every VHS horror movie, pretty much every weird movie you could find at these little, eccentric mom and pop video stores. You’d go to the horror section and just watch every single movie that’s there, and that’s what we did. Then we made our own little cheesy horror movies.

Has the horror film community embraced your work?

Doug: Definitely!

As a filmmaker working in a variety of exploitation genres, you often mix the themes of sex and death together. How did you decide to put an emphasis on the blending of these themes?

Doug: Well, they’ve always kind of been together in a sense. Every good horror movie has elements of sex in it, and certainly most successful horror movies has sex in it in one way or another. Being largely influenced by old school slasher and splatter flicks it kind of seemed natural for me to want to blend sex and death. And it shows in my work.

One of the only real compromises in my career I had to make in terms of the blend of sex and death was In the Warped Tour slasher movie, ‘Punk Rock Holocaust’ that I directed. There were originally sex scenes written in to it but we ended up cutting them out. Punk Rock Holocaust started not so much as a music themed movie with horror elements, but more as a traditional horror movie with sex and death. When we started showing the concepts to the Warped Tour and founder Kevin Lyman, they were ok with the violence, but the sex would have to be written out. I grew up with the Warped Tour and it was an honor to work with them so I was happy to make the compromise. If you’ve seen the movie, the sex basically got replaced with musical performances. But I think I made up for the compromise with some of my other more over the top work.

Do you feel that’s because there target audience skews a bit younger due to the emo scene and it’s popularity with the Hot Topic crowd?

Doug: Well to appeal to all ages and keep sponsors and parents happy they couldn’t have that sexual content. I understand it. It’s business. The movie that came out of it certainly pokes fun at Warped’s commercialism mixed with the punk rock ethic but it’s in good fun. People have to understand, the Warped Tour started as a punk rock tour and maintains the ethics and to a certain extent the music but it’s going on 15 years now and is much bigger than that. You need to have a certain amount of commercial involvement to maintain one of the biggest rock tours in the world. I don’t consider it selling out; it’s survival of the fittest. And FYI, I don’t get paid to plug the Warped Tour, I just truly admire and respect what it is and stands for.

Have you had any direct feedback from directors like Stuart Gordon, whose work you reference in your own?

Doug: Actually, I met Stuart Gordon at the Chiller Convention in NJ. They were doing a photo shoot with Stuart and we were invited over because he’d heard of Re-Penetrator. I was drunk, and he was really drunk, and also John Landis was with him! They’d both heard of Re-Penetrator, and they were talking to me about it, and I was like “This is awesome!” I signed autographs for them! [Gordon] said he really appreciated [Re-Penetrator] it and knew he had made it as a director because a movie of his was turned into a porno! On the flip side of that, I also met Jeffrey Combs, and while we didn’t talk about Re-Penetrator, I heard he was disgusted by the idea of it!

What would you say is your favorite and least favorite filmmaking discipline?

Doug: Special effects is my favorite, because I can get my hands “bloody”, especially when it’s not my own production. Then I don’t have to worry about the logistics of other elements, I just have to just get in there and kill things and make them bloody. Also I like directing, just getting your vision out there and being in total control. Acting, I only do acting when I have to. I started out in the industry acting…and of course if someone wants me to do it, I’m open to the idea but at this point I think I’m better off behind the camera. In general, I just love the whole process of creating unusual and fun images!

Tell us all about your recent involvement with the New York Zombie Crawl?

Doug: The NYC Zombie Crawl is something we started in 2007, and it came from working in the horror biz for over ten years, working on various zombie projects and just a general love of all things undead. We had worked with the Philly Zombie Crawl and noticed there was nothing going on like that in New York. There are a few different zombie events, but nothing organized on a regular basis. I’m from New York (but have lived in Philly for the last eight years)so I figured it would be a good chance to get back into the mix in New York, and connect with like- minded individuals, and that’s kind of how it started. We did the first one in May 2007 in Manhattan and it’s doubled in size every single event since. We do a main event in springtime in Brooklyn (usually the last Sunday of the month). We just did the spring one on May 30th and had about 500 zombies, and we have more events on the way (check out the new website at http://www.nyczombiecrawl.com for full details). In October we’ll do one the last Sunday before Halloween. Spring and Fall seem to be the seasons for zombies, we’ve already done three or four zombie events this season and we’re not even up to our main event yet! Last October, we had at least one zombie event every single weekend. We’ll provide zombie makeup for the masses and then take the onslaught to the streets. I have an awesome team of SPFX effects artists that I’ve worked with over the years who all come and help out. If anything, it gives us an excuse to practice our make-up skills. At this point, I’ve developed a network of twenty five to thirty make-up artists that will not only help out with the Zombie Crawl but we’ll hire when we can to work with us on set as well.

Do you find it challenging dealing with large crowds in a situation like the Zombie Crawl?

Doug: We’ve been involved with live events, stage shows and concerts for years so we do have a lot of experience in this field. When we started the NYC Zombie Crawl we had worked with the Philly Zombie Crawl already so we knew what went into this type of event and it kind of just worked itself out. It’s not as hard as you may think. Part of it is because we have experience in this sort of thing already, but we’ve never really had any problems at all.

Another project of yours that will be of interest to zombie fans is Play Dead. What can you tell us about it?

Doug: Well, Play Dead is another project that’s come from the NYC Zombie Crawl. We were contacted by Simon and Schuster, the book publishing company. They just released a book, called Play Dead by Ryan Brown (http://books.simonandschuster.com/Play-Dead/Ryan-Brown/9781439171301), and they contacted us to create a viral marketing campaign for the project. We decided to come up with a movie trailer and shoot some select scenes to look as though the project is a movie. We shot twelve scenes containing the key elements of the book. We basically took the book and transcribed a lot of it into scripts. The author let us take what he wrote and have full creative control, so we were able to rewrite the things we needed, and cut things out and add things to it. We definitely stayed true to the novel as much as possible, but there were certain things we weren’t able to do because of budgetary reasons. But right now online you can see a full trailer of what looks like a feature movie called Play Dead. We also have videos on the website at www.playdeadmovie.com with auditions, rehearsals, behind the scenes, special effects, things like that.

Did you get to read the full novel before you started, or were you just given excerpts to work from?

Doug: Oh yeah, I read the full book before I started, they sent me an advanced copy. This whole process happened pretty quickly. They contacted us about four weeks prior to the book's release, and asked us to do some promotions through the NYC Zombie Crawl. Then they saw that we had a production company (Backseat Conceptions), and that I have experience directing horror movies, and they said “Can you create little viral videos for this?”, and I just kind of ran with it. I took it to its fullest extent possible. The author actually came to the set with his son! I’ve had constant conversations with him about the tone of the thing, and I’m actually rewriting some scenes for a PG type trailer for Barnes and Noble.com and those types of websites. There’s also going to be a red band trailer with more violence and cursing and stuff like that, that will premiere at the NYC Zombie Crawl event on May 30th along with select full scenes from the trailer.

On the subject of dead things, what are your Post Mortem Pin-ups?

Doug: Post Mortem Pin-ups is something I’ve been slowly developing since 2001. The cameras I had then aren’t as advanced as the cameras I have now, so some of the photos probably won’t see the light of day, but the concept has been around since 2001. It’s basically femme fatales, different starlets, girls I know that I find attractive, that I also find make attractive corpses. It’s a hobby of mine, I have prints for sale on the website and I’m working towards getting a calendar and a book together. I started doing it more seriously and came up with the website (http://www.postmortempinups.com/) in 2007, around the same time I started doing the NYC Zombie Crawl. We've got nine deceased models so far including Joanna Angel, Gia Paloma, Melodie Gore, Riley Mason, Morgan Mae, Page Morgan, Draven Star, Chapel Waste and Stacia Eve Paul with more victims on the way!

You mentioned your production company, Backseat Conceptions. Tell us a bit more about the company.

Doug: Backseat Conceptions is our main production company, founded by myself and two other producers and dear friends of mine that I’ve known for over ten years, Nick Esposito and Zafer Ulkucu. We started in 2002, and it came out of us working for other production companies, and them owning what we were producing for them. We decided to take our skills and make our own stuff.

We are three producers and a network of fifteen to twenty different professionals that do all different kinds of production work. We basically have our own crew that we use for our projects and hire out to other productions. It’s a way for us to get together and create something that we have complete creative control of. If you go to the Backseat Conceptions website (http://backseatconceptions.com/09/index.php), you can see what we are working on right now. Last summer we did two features, and this year we’ve done at least fifteen music videos, either producing or directing them ourselves, or working in different aspects of production. In the last month we've been doing a lot of Reality TV and in August we'll be producing another horror-thriller with my friend, director Adam Ahlbrandt (Lionsgate's 'Sight' and the upcoming 'The Burnt House') for which I'll also be providing SPFX.

Are there unique challenges in directing music videos in comparison to feature films?

Doug: The biggest challenge we've had in terms of music videos so far was my pet project, The A.K.A.s music video “Get It Together” (http://www.vimeo.com/9896536), which we shot in one day. It was a very long day of shooting, but between post production work on that, and the other projects we had going on it took about ten months to get it all together! That video was all green screen compositing and after effects, each frame was between 10-15 individual shots composited together. Production can go many different ways depending on the vision of the band. It’s tough to say what the biggest challenge is because it changes per video. We produced two music videos that Bam Margera directed (for CKY and 69 EYES respectively), both pretty technical, that we handled all the after effects and compositing for. We were under much quicker deadline for those projects. We had about ten people working on five computers for two weeks non-stop!

That’s an insane number of projects! Do you have anything else you are working on?

Doug: A lot of zombie stuff lately....I recently did a book signing for the Zombie Combat Manual from Penguin Putnam, they hired us to do zombies for them at the book signing. We just had the NYC Zombie Crawl on May 30th, and a show at the Knitting Factory, and that tied in to promotion for Play Dead. We're getting ready to zombify the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th, one of the competitors, Tim "Gravy" Brown is competing as a zombie so we're all going out to show support.

As I mentioned, I am gearing up for SPFX and co-producing Adam Ahlbrandt's new movie 'The Cemetary' in August, and the last movie I did with him, 'The Burnt House' comes out on DVD July 6th and Blu-Ray July 27th. You can see the trailer and get more info at the diustributor's website at www.invinciblepictures.com.

Outside of production, we also do a lot of live events...we're setting up a tour with Strip for Pain: America's Most Dangerous Gameshow which is a show we created for Burning Angel and I co-host it with Joanna Angel...the name is pretty self explanatory. We're doing some shows in Chicago July 15-18th and then going out to different markets after that, you can find out much more at www.stripforpain.com

Do you have a final message for our readers?

Doug: Journey said it best...'Don't Stop Believin'...anything you want to do, if you put your mind to it and believe you can, it will happen. It may take years and a lot of hard work and you may be broke through it all but the light will eventually come at the end of the tunnel. Just stay focused.

Also, stay up to date on all my various projects at my personal website at www.iamanevilcarrot.com!

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